Nixes obligatory helmets for kids: Slowing down vehicles and reducing traffic is key, provincial lawmakers told
BY MICHELLE LALONDE, THE GAZETTE FEBRUARY 26, 2010 3:05 AM
Quebec’s most influential cycling organization yesterday released a blueprint for making cities safer for cyclists and pedestrians, and also reiterated its position against Quebec’s proposed bicycle helmet law.
Changing the physical environment in cities to slow vehicular traffic and reduce traffic volume is key to keeping cyclists and pedestrians safe, said Vélo Québec’s director-general Jean-François Pronovost.
“We worry about other jurisdictions where they have passed a helmet law and then they stopped doing anything about cycling safety, like Ontario,” he said.
Vélo Québec is also concerned that adopting a helmet law would send the message that cycling is dangerous and actually discourage cycling (a claim backed by some studies and refuted by others).
Instead, the province should help municipalities adapt their streets to reduce potential for collisions between vehicles and cyclists, Pronovost said.
The group has published a new, updated guide for designing cities to favour active forms of transportation. The 168-page, illustrated manual – soon to be translated into English – is primarily aimed at professionals who work in city departments such as public works, parks and recreation, planning, and transportation.
While it includes technical specifications – such as optimum widths for sidewalks, narrower intersections, etc. – it is written in plain language so that it can be a tool for city councillors and citizens who want to lobby for safer cities.
The Liberal government’s proposal to make helmets obligatory for children age 12 and younger is currently being studied by the National Assembly’s standing committee on transportation and environment as part of Bill 71, modifying the Road Safety Code.
Such a law is unlikely to be enforced by police, Vélo Québec officials argue. Enforcing a long-standing law that obliges cyclists to use lights at night would save more lives than a helmet law, they contend. But some safety experts say helmets should be obligatory, though reduction of traffic speed and volumes is also crucial.
“It’s not an either/or thing. Both steps can and should be taken,”said Barry Pless, a professor of pediatrics, epidemiology and biostatistics at McGill University and a former editor of the medical journal Injury Prevention.
“A helmet is not going to protect you if you get hit by a speeding car, but if you ride into a car door that opens, it could make the difference between a concussion and a bump,” he said.
In its brief to that committee earlier this month, the Institut national de santé publique du Québec recommended the province make helmet use obligatory for cyclists of all ages.
The INSPQ also recommended cities increase cycling infrastructure, and take measures to reduce vehicular speeds and volume.
In Quebec about 15 cyclists die from head injuries every year and 272 are hospitalized with head injuries.
Just over a third of Quebec cyclists wear helmets. Among children under five the rate is 66 per cent, 60 per cent for 5- to 9-year-olds, and 26 per cent for 10- to 15 -year-olds.
The INSPQ estimates Quebec’s proposed law would avoid .8 deaths per year, as well as 28 hospital admissions, and 112 emergency room visits.
The group estimates that wearing a helmet reduces the risk of head and brain injury by at least 60 per cent for cyclists involved in a collision or a fall.
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