Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

New law means kids need a lid on it

Warnings issued first but fines possible

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Looking forward to getting back in the bike saddle this spring with your kids?

Then expect to pay a $50 fine if you don't have bicycle helmets strapped on their heads.

The province's new mandatory helmet legislation goes into the force this summer. It requires all Manitobans under the age of 18 to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle or riding in anything attached to or towed by a bicycle.

The impending law is the NDP's way of protecting children from preventable head injuries, but it comes at a time when groups in other countries argue bicycle-helmet legislation makes cycling appear dangerous.

These groups, which include the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation, also claim mandatory helmet laws do not reduce head injuries because police generally do not enforce them.

RCMP and Winnipeg police said Thursday they're waiting until the province sets a date for Bill 37 to come into effect.

"When it's law, we'll enforce it," RCMP spokeswoman Sgt. Line Karpish said, adding she believes Mounties will have an initial grace period in which they'll issue warnings instead of fines.

The bike-helmet law states children under 14 will not be given a ticket or fine. It also gives police discretion if they're dealing with a first-time offence.

"Those fined for a first offence can avoid paying the fine by completing a bicycle-helmet safety course about the fundamentals of helmet safety," a spokeswoman for Healthy Living Minister Jim Rondeau said. "This... safety course, available online or in paper format, will be a first of its kind and an interactive way to educate youth and parents on helmet safety," the spokeswoman added.

That will include a new online safety quiz, which the province has not yet publicized.

Rondeau's office would not say when the law will come into effect other than sometime this spring.

During the last eight years, the province has distributed 82,000 helmets in Manitoba, including more than 7,000 at no cost to children of low-income families, the spokeswoman added.

Rondeau has said the new law will be accompanied by a public-education campaign to make cyclists wear helmets as automatically as motorists wear seatbelts.

When the law takes effect, Manitoba will join provinces such as Ontario and Alberta, where minors are also required to wear helmets. Laws in Nova Scotia, British Columbia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island apply to adults as well.

Dave Elmore, director of safety and education for the cyclist lobby group Bike to the Future, said the Winnipeg group has not taken a position on the helmet law as many cyclists are split on the issue.

"We are, however, disappointed that the Manitoba government sees this as a primary method of making cycling safer," he said. "There are many factors that need to be taken into account when it comes to cycling, many of which would be far more effective in reducing injuries."

Elmore said these include defining in law the passing distance for motorists passing cyclists to three feet or one metre and defining the distance from the edge of the road for cyclists. Currently, the Highway Traffic Act indicates "as close as practicable" which is misunderstood by both drivers and cyclists.

"Cycling is not inherently dangerous," he said. "Part of what makes it appear dangerous is the lack of knowledge, skills and confidence on the part of cyclists as well as a lack of understanding on the part of drivers.

"Many people do not cycle because they are afraid of riding next to tons of steel, but if they understood their place on the road and if drivers also understood what represents reasonable cycling behaviour, the roads would be a better place to ride."

International groups, such as the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation and the European Cyclist's Federation, say mandatory helmet laws discourage cycling by portraying it as abnormally dangerous.

The ECF says on its website a person is less likely to be killed during a mile of cycling than during a mile of walking. It also says helmets provide a small protective effect, as they are designed to withstand minor knocks and bumps, not a collision with a vehicle.

The ECF says authorities should focus more on promoting cycling and traffic safety, including dedicated bike routes.

 

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Helmets prevent deaths: study

An Ontario study says cyclists who die from a head injury are much less likely to be wearing a helmet than bike riders who die from other injuries.

The study analyzed 129 accidental bicycle-related deaths in Ontario between 2006 and 2010 and found cyclists who didn't wear a helmet were three times more likely to die from brain trauma than those who wore protective headgear. Researchers say there are about 70 cycling deaths in Canada every year and about 20 could have been prevented by the wearing of a helmets. Most who died were adults. The study was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 15, 2013 0

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