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      Submission to the Ontario Government
      on Bicycle Helmet Legislation

      (The following is a copy of an August 1995 submission to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation following the election of a new provincial government.)

      Executive Summary

      Legislation should be postponed based on the following:

      • Bicycle helmet legislation is discriminatory.
      • Ontario risks losing the overwhelming health, environmental, and economic benefits it derives from cycling.
      • Australian helmet legislation has not delivered the benefits that were forecast prior to the law in 1991.
      • Unlike adults, children cause 80% of the accidents they are involved in and therefore need special attention.
      • The protective value of a helmet has been exaggerated and public perceptions do not coincide with the facts.
      • Cycling is a very safe activity for competent cyclists (i.e possessing skills which can be learnt by a ten year old).
      • It will be a wasteful diversion of police resources to enforce this law.
      • Large numbers of cyclists in Australia defied the law and some were jailed. There is a risk that this will happen in Ontario.
      • Cycling must be promoted rather than discouraged.
      • There needs to be a focus on accident reduction particularly among young road users. A reduction in accidents reduces injuries of all kinds.
      • An educational alternative which is more in keeping with our democratic values needs to be considered. Voluntary helmet use is growing rapidly (over 70% among Ottawa commuters) and is a more positive approach than a legislative one.

      Legislation is Discriminatory

      Of 25 head injury fatalities on Ontario roads, one is a cyclist Of 17 serious head injuries suffered on Ontario roads, one is suffered by a cyclist. Cyclist fatalities (25 to 30 per annum) represent less than 3% of all Ontario road fatalities. More fatalities occur from water sports (over 130), motor sports (over 40), pedestrians (over 150) and car occupants (over 850). This comparison despite over 50% of the population of Ontario rides a bicycle.

      Ontario Taxpayers risk losing the Benefits of Cycling

      Cyclists make lesser demands on the health care system than average Canadians. Studies by the British Medical Association show that twenty life years are gained from cycling for each one lost through death and injury. By definition, any decline in cycling represents a net health loss to Ontario taxpayers. Harvard studies show that the risk of heart disease is reduced by 50% among regular cyclists over the age of 45. 35,000 Ontarians die of heart disease annually compared to less than 30 cyclists. One person cycling represents one less motorist - result, less pollution, less congestion, lower demand on the highway system and lower cost of road construction.

      Australian Legislation Has Failed

      Introduced in 1991, counts and hospital records consistently show cycling has permanently declined. Projected benefits have not been realized and the latest study out of NSW by the Monash Accident Research Centre states "for the third post-law year the observed proportion of head injured cases to be no different from the down ward trend predicted by the model using pre-law wearing rates". For every newly helmeted cyclist three others quit. The only reduction in head injuries has been brought about by a reduction in cycling!

      Accidents Differ between Young and Adult Cyclists

      Young people cause 80% of bike collisions they are involved in. The majority of adult bike collisions are caused by others. Young cyclists tend to fall far more frequently than adults.

      Protective Value of a Helmet Exaggerated

      The Canadian Standards Association says "a helmet is designed to provide some protection in case of a fall". It is tested to withstand a blow of less than 20km/h. It is not designed to protect against high speed impact with a motor vehicle. Four of the last six cyclists killed in Ottawa were wearing helmets. Government-funded special interest groups have oversold the protective value of a helmet to a degree that parents wrongly equate helmet use with bicycle safety. If helmets worked like these groups claimed then mandating helmets in cars would save over 200 lives in Ontario! Methodologies in studies arrive at wrong conclusions. The study sent out by the Premier's office claims a helmet reduces the risk of a head injury (once in a collision) of 85%. A statistician worked on other data in the study and found that on the same basis one could conclude that helmets prevent 72% of non- head injuries. Perhaps a more accurate conclusion would have been that the few cyclists who wore helmets at that time (1988 in Seattle) were also safer cyclists than the ones who were not wearing a helmet! Dr. Mayer Hillman, Sr. Fellow of the Policy Institute Studies London, England also criticized the study's methodology in Cycle Helmets: the case for and against.

      Cycling is Safe

      Last year MTO (Ministry of Transportation of Ontario) carried out a survey of over 1,000 Ontarians. 609 said they were cyclists. Only 2 of these had suffered a head injury requiring treatment in a bike collision the previous year. Unlike motorists, competent cyclists represent very little risk to themselves or other road users.

      Waste of Police Resources

      Police should focus on criminal activity, not personal safety. Criminal and near criminal behaviour in motor vehicles cause the death of approximately 1,000 Ontario road users each year.

      Law Brought into Disrepute

      Unfair and unenforced laws bring the law into disrepute. In Australia as many as 25% defied the helmet law. In highly publicized cases, cyclists were jailed. We can expect the same in Ontario. In last year's MTO survey, 16% of cyclists said that a $90 (now $105) fine would not make them wear a helmet. Good cycle laws which actually save lives such as requirement for lights at night are not currently enforced. A $105 fine is absurd in comparison to $25 for no night lighting. The law is restricted to highways and does not include paths, trails or parks. In practice, it applies to adults only! Children under 16 cannot be ticketed. Only their parents for "knowingly allowing them to ride without a helmet". What kid once out of sight won't be tempted to take off the helmet?

      Promote Cycling - Don't Kill it

      The health, environmental, economic and social case for promoting cycling is overwhelming. Helmet laws have the effect of discouraging cycling. They create the false impression that cycling is dangerous.

      Focus on the Real Problem

      Children lack adequate cycling skills. Lack of training of the kind delivered by one of our member groups (see attached) is the cause. Bike skills training needs to be more widely available preferably through the school system. Why not "the Bicycle as a First Vehicle". A trained cyclist is ten times less likely to get into an accident. A 90% reduction in accidents is far more effective method than forced helmet use. Another problem is aggressive motor vehicle drivers. Better police enforcement and tougher penalties in the justice system would make the roads safer for all users. Let's save the lives of those 1,000 Ontarians a year killed by motor vehicles.

      Law Inconsistent with Democratic Values

      Nowhere in Canada or the US does such a law exist (although some jusrisdictions in the US have child helmet laws). The province of Quebec recently rejected it. The law represent unjustified government intrusion into the lives of Canadians. If this law can be rationalized then so can helmet laws for pedestrians and car users. The law may violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and will certainly be challenged in the courts on the basis of discrimination since the government has not explicitly demonstrated that the restriction on personal freedom is justified

      Recommendation - the Common Sense Solution

      Almost none of the above information was known to the legislature when it was presented for consideration in 1993. There is now overwhelming evidence to justify postponement of the legislation, and certainly to exclude adults from its implementation. This law seriously curtails cyclists' rights on Ontario roads. No decisions should be made without first considering the alternatives with bona fide representatives of the Ontario cycling community.

December 1995
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