Posted by: pafmurray | July 21, 2009

Should Cycling Helmets be Mandatory (for at least children) in Quebec

In 2008, a study concerning the effect of Ontario’s mandatory cycling helmet law on the deaths of cyclists was published in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics; the study clearly showed that a significant number of deaths had been averted among children during the time that the law had been in existence.

I contacted Dr. David Wesson who led the study, and he wrote: “As a practicing pediatric surgeon I see many severely injured children each year. With all the tools we have today almost all recover fully; the ones who don’t inevitably have had a bad head injury. Many of these head injuries could have been prevented by a helmet. A child’s skull, the helmet he’s born with, is not able to withstand the forces that our modern world can apply to it. So, how anyone can fail to see that all children should wear a helmet when skating or bicycling is beyond me.”

I took the liberty of sending the study and Dr. Wesson’s comments to Quebec’s Minister of Transport, the Minister of Health and to the office of Premier Charest. I am pleased to write that the study/comments were very well received. In an email exchange with Lise Tourigny, Chef, Service des usagers de la route, of the SAAQ, I was informed that over the years the SAAQ has sought to educate Quebecers of the advantages of wearing a cycling helmet, that as of 2006 (when the last survey was done), 37% of cyclists in Quebec were wearing helmets, and that “the SAAQ is open to legislation in this area”.

On the other side of the coin, there are studies out there from New Zealand and Australia (and perhaps elsewhere), that have shown (long term) that the number of cyclists decreased post helmet legislation, and they concluded that would result in fewer people exercising, and a much greater drain on the public healthcare system, due to low fitness level problems of the population. Concerning this, the consumer funded non profit Bicycle Safety Helmet Institute http://www.bhsi.org/negativs.htm wrote: “The British Medical Association once took this point of view. (In 2004 they reversed themselves and issued a call for helmet laws there.) Apparently they had thought that Brits would either ride bicycles or become couch potatoes. That is not the case in the US, where cycling certainly contributes to the overall fitness level of the populace, but millions of others prefer running, walking, swimming, rollerblading, skateboarding, skiing, rowing, basketball, football, baseball, soccer, handball, squash, volleyball, climbing, equestrian sports, aerobics or combinations of a thousand other activities to keep fit. The cyclic trend reducing bicycle use here since 1999 has been related to fashion, to the rise of those other forms of exercise and to safety concerns as car traffic has become worse. We had a decade of experience prior to that with states and cities passing helmet laws, and did not observe declines in cycling related to the laws. The decline was not limited to the areas that have helmet laws, including at least 21 states and 149 localities.”

In view of the needless drain on the time of those in health care, the high financial cost, the reduced access of the public to health care (due to preventable injuries requiring treatment), the overwhelming proof of the benefit of cycling helmets in decreasing the number of deaths/serious injuries, and the openness of the SAAQ to helmet legislation, I strongly encourage the Government of Quebec to introduce and pass legislation making the wearing of cycling helmets mandatory without any further delay.

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