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Helmet law needed here: prof

Forcing their use doesn't discourage bike riding, study finds

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The government's refusal to force Manitoba cyclists to wear bicycle helmets is irresponsible, says the author of a new study that shows mandatory helmet laws do not make people park their bikes.

The joint University of Manitoba and University of Ottawa study says helmet use is highest in provinces with mandatory legislation and that such legislation does not affect recreational or commuting cycling among children and adults.

Study co-author Ryan Zarychanski, an assistant professor of medicine at the U of M, said the purpose of the research is to show politicians helmet laws work.

"If any province needs this now, it could be us," he said. "We really don't have cycling infrastructure like other provinces do. And this is a pretty dangerous city to cycle in."

He said the study found helmet use is highest in provinces with legislation aimed at all riders, compared to legislation that only covers children.

He said more children -- the most at-risk group for injury -- will wear helmets if adults are forced to as well.

"It's never too late (for Manitoba) to do the right thing."

The study is published in the August issue of the Injury Prevention Journal.

Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Quebec and Newfoundland have no helmet laws for cyclists. Ontario and Alberta require helmets for people under 18, while Nova Scotia, British Columbia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island require everyone to wear a helmet while riding bicycles.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard said the study's findings support repeated calls by his party for mandatory bicycle helmet legislation.

"We've put it forward several times and it's been rejected by the NDP," Gerrard said. "Making it mandatory has a positive impact. Most of us are law-abiding citizens and, if the law changes, we'll follow it."

The NDP has opted instead for a public education campaign, including television ads, to get more riders wearing helmets. The campaign also offers subsidized helmets that cost as little as $10.

"We're not ruling out helmet legislation... but we also are looking at and discussing with other provinces to see how their legislation moved forward, how they implemented it, and the pros and cons in each case," Manitoba Healthy Living Minister Jim Rondeau said. "Right now, we're still working with the carrot approach."

Gerrard added the Liberals will introduce a private member's bill again in November when the legislative session starts.


-- With file from The Canadian Press


Snap it up

What the study found:

Helmets were worn by 73 per cent of respondents in Nova Scotia, where helmet legislation applies to all ages.

Only 40 per cent of respondents in Ontario reported wearing a helmet. In that province, legislation only applies to people under 18.

Only 27 per cent of people in Saskatchewan reported wearing a helmet. That province has no helmet law.

Helmet laws in Alberta and Prince Edward Island have not changed the number of cyclists riding recreationally or to work.

Helmet use among children increases when adults are also forced to wear helmets.

The study did not look at helmet use and injury rates. The World Health Organization promotes the use of helmets as a way to prevent head injuries caused by crashes or falls.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 11, 2010 A5

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