Until recently, about the only local voice against compulsory bike-helmet laws was Chris Bruntlett and the cyclechic movement. Brent Toderian has been adding his voice recently, arguing that the data is clear: bike-helmet requirements, by discouraging cycling, are overall a net loss to our health.
Today, we heard a shout – “Bike sharing: Forget helmets.”
Sun columnist Pete McMartin, by virtue of his mainstream-media megaphone, will be heard in places not otherwise listening – and with a heightened legitimacy:
The argument for helmet use rests on safety and injury prevention, but at least one study found that mandatory laws and increased mass use of helmets have had no discernible effect on reducing the number of cycling injuries and fatalities in Canada. Jessica Dennis, a researcher with the University of Toronto’s school of public health, could find no statistical link between mandatory helmet use and reduced hospital admissions for cycling injuries.
He also amplifies the voice of UBC Prof. Kay Teschke, who has done pioneering work on bike safety:
Teschke believes that when it comes to bike safety, we have it exactly backwards — that helmet laws are a distraction and don’t increase the sense of safety for cyclists. On the contrary, she believes, they may increase the sense of danger cyclists face in traffic. …
Teschke isn’t against helmet use — she is a cyclist herself — but she believes the answer to cycling safety and, just as importantly, increasing the sense of safety, isn’t mandatory helmet use, but rather in the construction of more bike lanes, preferably dedicated and separated bike lanes.
What can be done?
It’s doubtful the provincial government will move to change its law anytime soon. The momentum required to remove a law that already exists – particularly if there is a reputable constituency in favour of continuing it – is orders of magnitude greater than trying to create one. But provincial laws apply only to designated roadways.
The City of Vancouver could change its bylaw on helmet requirements with respect to routes like the seawall or other recreational paths. It could at least lower the fine – at the moment greater than the provincial penalty. Council could make clear that the police should priorize other aspects of illegal or inappropriate cycling, recognizing the legitimate complaints voiced in the accompanying article to McMartin’s: “Cyclists clash with walkers on eco trail in Stanley Park” – and not target the helmetless. Believe me, non-enforcement is a practical strategy often used when priorities or public opinion change.
And though the tremors may be erratic and minor at the moment, they may well be the harbingers of a seismic shift.