The ONTARIO COALITION for BETTER CYCLING
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.)
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
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
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
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.