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Helmets a matter of choice, cyclists say

The Windsor Star: Helmets a matter of choice, cyclists say

Education on road rules more important

BY BEATRICE FANTONI, THE WINDSOR STAR; WITH FILES FROM THE CANADIAN PRESS JUNE 20, 2012

Local bike advocates support a recommendation by the province's coroner to make helmets mandatory, but stress the best way to prevent cycling deaths in a city like Windsor is to educate both motorists and cyclists to follow the rules of the road.

"When you think about cycling deaths there's a lot of finger pointing," said Kari Gignac, the chair of the Windsor Bicycling Committee. "We need to all educate ourselves a little bit more about using the road."

The office of the chief coroner of Ontario released its report on cycling fatalities on Monday. The report examined 129 cycling deaths in Ontario between January 2006 and December 2010.

A spokeswoman for the coroner said a number of the deaths occurred in Southwestern Ontario, but she could not give more details on how many of those deaths were in the Windsor and Essex area.

Among the report's 14 recommendations is one to make bike helmets mandatory for all cyclists, as well as a recommendation to make cycling education part of the public school curriculum.

"If you start them young, they'll carry that knowledge with them," Gignac said, pointing to how wearing a seatbelt or recycling have become habits among young students because they are taught about it in school.

The same could go for cycling safety, Gignac said.

Coun. Alan Halberstadt, who sits on the city's cycling committee, said that he personally supports the idea of making helmets mandatory for all cyclists.

Currently, helmets are mandatory only for those under age 18.

According to the coroner's report, two-thirds of the cyclists killed in Ontario in the review period were not wearing a helmet.

John Konkle, the outgoing president of Bike Friendly Windsor, said he is skeptical about the mandatory helmet recommendation and says it should be a personal choice.

"The science isn't necessarily settled on how well it does protect you," he said, and this makes it difficult for a jurisdiction to fully justify mandatory helmets for adults.

Konkle said he does wear a helmet while cycling and fully supports the law which requires children to wear one.

Savvy cyclists will usually opt to wear a helmet, said John Palombo, who owns Courtesy Cycles in the city's west end.

If the helmet doesn't fit properly, then the rider is much less likely to wear it, he said, and his clients are often surprised at what a difference a betterfitting helmet can make.

At a city budget meeting on Monday night, Halberstadt moved to give the city's bike lane budget a $50,000 boost to fill in the gaps in the city's hodgepodge of bike lanes and trails. He said his motion was defeated in an 8-2 vote.

Many cyclists don't feel safe riding on the streets, he said, which is why many Windsorites don't commute by bike and often ride on the sidewalk instead, which goes against city bylaws and can result in accidents.

Eric Peters, whose 15-yearold son Kyle was struck by a car and killed while on his bike in Leamington in 2010, said that a helmet law won't be effective if it's not enforced.

"It comes back to, are the police going to police it?" Peters said.

Not only cyclists but motorists too have a responsibility to follow the rules of the road, he said, recalling how his son was hit and dragged under the car for 40 metres by the driver.

"As a motorist, it's my responsibility to keep my eyes peeled," Peters said.

Data compiled by the city for the cycling committee shows that between 2006 and 2010, there were 374 accidents involving bicycles in Windsor. Data was not available on fatalities.

According to the chief coroner's report, almost a third of the cycling deaths examined involved commuter cyclists rather than recreational cyclists.

As well, about 85 per cent of the cyclists killed in Ontario between 2006 and 2010 were men. The peak age for cycling deaths was 45 to 54.

Two-thirds of the deaths examined took place in urban centres.

CYCLING REPORT

Recommendations

The report makes 14 recommendations in total and addresses various provincial government ministries including the Ministry of Transportation, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

Along with recommending helmets be made mandatory, the report also recommends implementing a one-metre rule for drivers passing cyclists and making side guards mandatory for heavy trucks.

Driver's handbooks should also include more information about sharing the road, the report recommends, and safety information should be provided with bikes at the time of purchase.

© Copyright (c) The Windsor Star