CHILDREN AND BICYCLE SAFETY
Action Needed Now
by Avery Burdett
On October 1, 1995 it will be mandatory to wear a helmet when
riding a bicycle on all roads in Ontario. It would have been a lot
more effective if the Provincial government had made it mandatory
for children to be given cycle skills training. Although a bicycle
helmet is an essential piece of safety equipment which may reduce
injury, a helmet will not prevent one single "accident".
Most bicycle "accidents" are not accidents at all but rather
crashes. 80% of the crashes involving children under 15 years old
are caused by the children themselves. Such crashes are
preventable. Correct and safe operation of a bicycle can be learned
at an early age, starting on a child's first tricycle, but few
children get the opportunity of cycle training. 95% of children in
Ontario own and ride a bicycle. The vast majority acquire bad
habits when young which places them at risk each time they ride.
Last year a young cyclist was killed in the Ottawa region when he
turned left from the far right of the road across the path of a car
without checking over his shoulder. He was wearing a helmet. I hold
the Ontario's Premier, Bob Rae and his government accountable for this
There's much hypocrisy related to bicycle safety. Parents, school
authorities, and the Ontario government are not doing enough to
ensure that children are given training in the operation and
maintenance of a bicycle. Anyone who is satisfied with the status
quo, and who thinks that clamping a helmet on every child's head is
the answer, doesn't care about the safety of our young cyclists.
Cycling is not inherently dangerous. The average cyclist (less than 1,000
km annually) is at less risk of a serious injury than the average
motorist (20,000 km) annually. Anyone can acquire the road cycling
skills in a few evenings of training through nationally sanctioned
CAN-BIKE courses. The only prerequisite is the ability to ride a bicycle. For
children, instruction covers basic bicycle handling skills, safety,
maintenance, and equipment. For older children, instruction includes
correct positioning among traffic, how to make vehicular-style left
turns, and how to anticipate and avoid risky situations.
A helmet is only an injury prevention measure as a crash occurs,
and it cannot prevent injuries to other parts of the body. In
comparison, a cycling course is a crash prevention measure. Prevent
crashes and we prevent all injuries.
The protection a helmet offers is limited. The certification test
by the Canadian Standards Association simulates a fall from 1.5
metres. A helmet won't save your head if it is hit by a car
travelling 20 km/h or more. Most helmet campaign literature
exaggerates the protection afforded. It typically quotes bicycle
fatalities, implying, without a shred of evidence, that 75% of
these would have been prevented with helmet use.
It's time the Ministers of Education and Transportation of Ontario
and our boards of education took child cycling seriously; more and
more children will be riding bicycles as school busing is reduced;
action on the incorporation of bicycle safety into school
programming is long overdue. Parents need to understand that a
helmet on their children is not enough; if they want their children
to avoid crashes in the first place, then they must get them into
a cycle skills training course.
(first published in the Nepean Clarion, summer 1994)