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      A survey of over 1,000 Ontario residents conducted on behalf of the Province's Ministry of Transportation at the beginning of October 1994 showed 609 (61%) of the respondents are cyclists.

      Cycling not Dangerous, Government Dangerous

      Twenty nine of the cyclists (5%) reported being involved in a collision during the previous year or so. Only eight (1.3%) needed medical treatment, and one was admitted to hospital. Six cyclists (1%) incurred a blow to the head, and only 2 of those (0.3%) required medical treatment. The survey did not indicate which if any of those incurring head injuries were wearing helmets.

      The results tend to confirm what many cycling organizations have claimed all along, that cycling is inherently safe and Ontario's legislation is a solution looking for a problem. Other figures from the Ministry's Road Safety unit show very low rates of serious injury to cyclists on Ontario roads. In comparison, injuries to motorists and their passengers are at epidemic levels.

      Some will Quit, Others will Defy the Law

      The figures suggest that large numbers of Ontario's over five million cyclists are either going to quit cycling or defy the law rather than wear a helmet. 16% of all cyclists indicated that a $90 fine will not make them more likely to wear a helmet, and 12% said that Ontario's law will not either. Ontario's mandatory bicycle helmet law comes into effect on October 1, 1995.

      Following the 1991 introduction of helmet legislation in Australia, all states which carried out "before and after" surveys experienced around 25% reductions in cycling. In some surveys, over 25% of those still cycling have refused to comply with the law. Some Oz cyclists have been jailed rather than wear a helmet.

      Is Wearing a Lid Dangerous?

      Another alarming figure shows a disproportionate number of helmeted cyclists are involved in collisions. Although only 26% of cyclists wear a helmet all the time, and 13% wear one part of the time for a maximum of 39%, a whopping 48% of collisions involve a cyclist wearing a helmet. An explanation for this could be that helmeted cyclists ride more than unhelmeted cyclists. But one would expect there to be a significant offset resulting from the ability of cyclists who ride frequently to avoid dangerous situations. In other words, if we associate helmet use with cycling skills, then there should be a lower accident rate among helmeted cyclists. A likely explanation is that once helmeted, a significant proportion cyclists ride less carefully. Let's face it, few mountain bikers would do the really scary things they do without their space lids!

      Benefits Exaggerated

      Unfortunately, the benefits of a helmet have been grossly exaggerated by heavily government-subsidized groups like the Ontario Head Injury Association, Safe Kids Canada and the World Health Organization. This can only lead to some cyclists to believe they are invulnerable. All cyclists need to realize that the Canadian Standards Association certification requires only that a helmet to survive a drop from 1.5 metres with a head form weighing about 5 kilos in it. The test is equivalent to a fall. A helmet is not much good if a cyclist gets launched towards a hydro pole from a bike at 30 or 40kph with the full force of a 60 or 70 kilo body behind the helmet. No cyclist is likely to survive a direct hit from a car travelling at anything more than 20 kph or so. Perhaps the over dependence on a helmet explains why the Australian legislation has failed. Any reduction in Oz fatalities can be attributed to declines in cycling not helmet use.

      Reelection More Important than a Few More Dead Cyclists

      The possible association between helmet use and higher accident rates should be disturbing news for the Provincial government. The Province's entire bicycle safety program is based on helmet legislation. It originally promised that legislation would be a part of a general cycle safety education program aimed at cyclists and motorists. At the time, many of us were sceptical, particularly when the bill's sponsor, MPP Dianne Cunningham from London, suggested delaying implementation of the legislation until after the Provincial election so no one would lose their seat over it. Clearly, getting reelected was more important than a few dead cyclists (assuming she believes her own helmet propaganda).

      A Failure Looms

      As in Australia, Ontario helmet legislation will fail on many counts. Wearing a helmet will not prevent one single collision. Cycling will decline and the health and environmental benefits will be lost. It may give some cyclists and most parents a false sense of security, and may actually increase the accident rate among cyclists as some studies have suggested in Australia. Ontario's law only applies on roads, not on a bike path or off- road where the dangers are greater. Since many cyclists defy existing laws, this will just be another one they defy. Maybe some cyclists will go to jail. It is silly to ask police forces to enforce laws where there is no victim. Besides cops should be out catching criminals, not harassing cyclists.

      Education not Legislation

      The potential for the greatest crash prevention exists in child education and in controlling the excessive and reckless use of motor vehicles. But I won't hold my breath for the Province to act on these.

      [Update: it should be noted that the socialist NDP government responsible for this policy was defeated at the polls and replaced by a Progressive Conservative government in 1995. Dianne Cunningham, the private member who sponsored the bill was appointed to the Cabinet and was present when the Premier, Mike Harris, reduced the scope of the bill to exempt adults.]

December 2008
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