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Nanny-state helmet law hurts cycling efforts

Brad Kilburn can’t be thrilled to be an outlaw in British Columbia. Butthe avid cyclist has become exactly that since last year.

Brad Kilburn can’t be thrilled to be an outlaw in British Columbia. But the avid cyclist has become exactly that since last year.


Kilburn, you see, no longer wears a helmet while riding his bike.


The Richmond resident, who has commuted to work by bicycle for the last 26 years, has come to the realization that mandatory helmet laws are actually bad for cyclists and Metro Vancouver’s cycling environment.


“It’s too bad well-intentioned individuals have harmed cycling advocacy by forcing riders to wear helmets,” he told me. Kilburn also maintains the same law is hampering Vancouver’s attempt to set up a bike sharing program.


He’s not alone in his assessment of helmet laws as more hindrance than help. In 2007, Saskatoon’s city council rejected a bylaw that would require bikers to wear helmets. One councillor wisely cited Canada’s obesity epidemic as a reason to distance the city from punitive measures that would discourage folks to get on a two-wheeler.


This is not to say that cyclists shouldn’t wear helmets. Most should — especially children, and those who ride in heavy traffic. But forcing riders to wear head protection in every circumstance has had the effect of killing any spontaneity and enjoyment from cycling.


Not only do helmets give some riders a false sense of security, they also send a message to motorists that cyclists are somehow better protected — and less vulnerable — in the case of a collision.


Sadly, the law is symptomatic of the nanny-state mentality that is so pervasive today.


Last September, Colin Clarke, a bike safety expert and former coach with the British Cycling Federation, published a detailed report entitled “Evaluating bicycle helmet use and legislation in Canada.”


According to his report, “helmet law effects in Canada appear to have resulted in the public being fined, subject to police involvement, loss of cycling health benefits and a reduction in civil liberties, as well as additional accidents and longer hospital stays for head injury.”


Canada, his research concludes, should emulate the cycling culture of the Netherlands, where helmet laws are unnecessary because of “good cycling facilities or wide on-road cycle lanes that avoid high speed and heavy vehicle traffic.”


Sadly, the sensibility that exists in Holland and even Saskatoon has yet to prevail in B.C. And that means cyclists like Kilburn will have to continue riding on the wrong side of the local law.

Derek Moscato is a writer with a focus on urban issues, transportation, architecture
and economics; dmoscato@yahoo.com.

 
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