Mark this one down as a candidate for stupid idea of the week: The move to repeal British Columbia’s law making it mandatory to wear a helmet while bicycling.
Vancouverites who are seeking to implement a bike-sharing program are among those lobbying to see the law changed. And their intentions are noble: Increasing the number of people getting around the city by bike through a program that would allow people to pick up a bike in one location and drop it off at another. And the current law — part of the Motor Vehicle Act — is seen as a hindrance to the success of such a program, because those who don’t happen to be carrying helmets, or prefer not to use rental helmets, would be discouraged from hopping on the shared bikes for short trips.
The trade-off is just too great, in this writer’s view. If anything, in fact, we’d like to see B.C.’s mandatory bike helmet law more rigidly enforced than it is now. After all, a law that’s not enforced isn’t worth having on the books, and physicians agree that the number of serious head injuries from bike crashes is drastically reduced among those who wear properly fitted helmets.
While some jurisdictions only require that children wear bike helmets, B.C. has had a mandatory helmet law for all since 1996. The current fine for non-compliance is $29, and for children under 16, the penalty accrues to the child’s parents. According to the website cyclehelmets.org, the incidence of cyclist injuries fell by 35 per cent between 1995 and 1997, after the law took effect. However, at the same time it is believed that bicycle ridership also fell by something like 28 per cent, possibly as a result of the new law.
While there’s little question, then, that fewer people ride when helmets are made mandatory, making helmet use voluntary among adults would — pure and simple — increase the incidence and severity of cycling-related head injuries.
In response to Vancouver Coun. Peter Ladner’s contention in The Province newspaper that “for short rides it is not necessary,” we ask: How short? One never knows when a dangerous situation might arise. If keeping and enforcing the current law means that Vancouver’s bike sharing program is doomed to failure, so be it. Better safe than sorry.
— David Burke