A recent article in The Telegram titled “Mandatory helmet laws may not reduce head injuries: study” written by Bob Weber discussed the effects of mandatory helmet laws, or lack thereof, across the provinces.
I think the article’s political message missed the mark.
The study found hospital admission rates for head-related cycling injuries in provinces with and without mandatory helmet laws dropped between 1994 and 2013.
The study also found that hospital admissions actually started declining years before legislation was introduced. It concluded there was no independent effect of legislation on the rate of hospital admissions, suggesting there’s a lot more to making cyclists safe than forcing them to wear helmets. This report makes mandatory helmet laws seem somewhat unimportant.
But they’re not unimportant, and here’s why.
The study cited new developments like bike lanes, safe passing laws, voluntary helmet use and education campaigns as factors that contribute to the overall decline in hospital admissions for head-related cycling injuries across Canada.
What this tells me, and what is not explicitly stated in the article, is that there appears to be a culture of better bicycle helmet safety emerging which is contributing to the drop in hospital admission rates across Canada. Mandatory helmet laws are only one integrated contributing factor.
It’s important to consider that legislation is often a reflection of a changing culture or popular opinion; legislators introduce measures that are politically popular.
When it comes to preventing brain injury and saving lives, the provinces shouldn’t wait until it’s popular enough to introduce mandatory helmet laws. Yes, legislation is only one factor, but it’s a factor that could lead the culture rather than follow it; prevent brain injury and save lives now rather than later.
Provincial governments that do not yet have mandatory helmet laws need to take the initiative now. This includes the Newfoundland and Labrador government.
At least I agree with the article’s concluding statement: “Helmet laws should be part of a comprehensive strategy to improve cycling safety.”
Chesley F. Crosbie