Let’s use our heads and make helmets mandatory

Here’s a question for all of you: How is it that a helmet is mandatory for an e-scooter but not for a regular bike? Am I missing something or is there a serious disconnect going on here?

The other weekend, we rented a two-person e-scooter for a few hours to zip around Toronto. Max speed? A (whopping!) 35 km/hr. Plus, given that we were two people, hitting 30 km/hr was a rarity that day.

I mean, this thing was pretty feeble. It struggled going up hills from a standstill. Fellow motorists (in their appropriately-powered vehicles, I might add) yelled “You’re too slow!” more than once. And to top it off, the thing made a rather obnoxious beeping sound when you clicked on the turn signal.

Eventually, we clued into the fact that this thing should basically be ridden like a bicycle: Stay to the right side of the right lane whenever possible without actually riding in any bike lanes, recently ruled a big no-no in Toronto.

We saw a lot of things that day but not once did we see somebody riding a scooter (electric or otherwise) without a helmet. Many cyclists eschew the helmet even though it’s not uncommon for them to hit 35 km/hr (the max speed of our scooter), especially coming down hills.

(From Wikipedia: Typical speeds for bicycles are 15 to 30 km/h (10 to 20 mph). On a fast racing bicycle, a reasonably fit rider can ride at 50 km/h (30 mph) on flat ground for short periods.)

In recent years, I’ve become a somewhat passionate proponent for cyclists wearing helmets. It just seems so obvious to me, such a no-brainer. We read about cyclists getting injured (sometimes fatally) on Toronto’s streets all the time and yet we go on thinking that we’re somehow invincible, that it could never happen to us.

I’ll often tell anybody who’ll listen that they should probably consider wearing a helmet in Toronto. And so far, I’ve yet to hear a valid argument for NOT wearing one. Here are some ways one may try to justify it:

“Wearing a helmet makes me less cool.”

Really? I would understand this argument a little more coming from a high school student, a place where superficiality reigns, where it determines one’s “popularity.” A place where having the latest generation iPhone or the newest pair of Jordans makes you cool.

But as we grow up and escape that bubble, shouldn’t we be maturing as well, getting more comfortable in our own skin, less susceptible to peer pressure? In my opinion, adults should not be worrying themselves with what’s cool or what’s not cool, especially when it comes to protecting their skull and brain. They should be cluing into the fact that self-preservation should be high up there on their list of priorities.

“It messes up my hair.”

Would you rather something else get messed up? Anyway, here’s the solution. Walk into the office (or cafe, bar, wherever) with your helmet in clear view. Carry it with pride. People will see it and understand. And probably respect you for it. I get that people’s hair is important to them but it can’t be more important than their life, can it?

“I like to feel the wind in my hair.”

Take a ferry ride to Toronto Island if you really want to feel the wind in your hair. Or go to Canada’s Wonderland. Or sprint down your street. Or stand in front of a fan. I get it, it’s a pleasant feeling. But it’s is still not a valid excuse.

“I’d still hurt myself if I was in an accident wearing a helmet.”

Ya, maybe. Unless you equip yourself with knee and shoulder pads, a fall will almost always result in a few cuts and bruises. Or maybe a broken bone if you’re really unlucky. But here’s the thing: Bones heal! Cuts and scrapes heal! Your brain? Sometimes, there’s no coming back from a brain injury. Sometimes, it’s permanent. This is why it should be your most prized possession and why you should treat it as such.

“I’m a good rider. Nothing will happen to me.”

Sure, you can control yourself. And on a quiet country road with little to no cars, you’d probably be okay. But you can’t control others. You can’t control drunk and/or reckless drivers. You never, ever know when a car will do something unpredictable. Good drivers still wear seatbelts, right? So no matter how good a rider you are, it doesn’t really matter because a lot of things can happen on a busy downtown street filled with cars, buses, streetcars, motorcycles and scooters.

_____________________________________________________

If it wasn’t already clear, I would be all-in on an expansive helmet law in Ontario. So would the Office of the Chief Coroner. If you’re zipping around the streets of Toronto, going in between cars, changing lanes, running stop signs, WITHOUT a helmet, I just don’t get that. Motorcyclists (and those who ride e-scooters) wear helmets. Motorists wear seatbelts. Cyclists should wear helmets.

Here are some highlights taken directly from the 2012 review, linked above:

  • There were 129 accidental cycling deaths between 2006 and 2010 in Ontario, two-thirds of which took place in an urban setting
  • 73 percent of the victims were not wearing helmets at the time
  • A strong majority of the deaths occurred during clear weather, on dry roads, with good visibility

Just so you know, it wasn’t easy for me to come to this decision. If there’s one thing that irks me about Ontario, it’s that it’s a bit of a nanny state, especially when it comes to alcohol and smoking laws. People should have the right to live their life as they wish. But a mandatory helmet law just makes sense to me. And in case you were wondering, four Canadian provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI and British Columbia), as well as Australia, require all cyclists to wear helmets so it’s not like this would be some out-of-left-field law. Ontario currently has mandatory helmet laws for those under the age of 18.

How many memorials will it take for us to re-examine our helmet laws?

Just from my own observations, it seems like helmet use has gone up in this city. And that’s encouraging. Maybe I haven’t convinced you. But ask yourself this: If you had a child, would you not make sure that he/she wears a helmet at all times? I know I would, whether he/she was a pre-teen or a young adult.

Need another reason? Check out this map. It details all the cycling fatalities on Toronto’s streets since 1986.

Here’s another question: What would it take to change your mind? God forbid, but what if a friend or relative suffered a serious head injury while riding his bike without a helmet? Or died? Would that be enough to convince you? How close would you have to be to a victim for it to hit close enough to home to change your behaviour?

People often read a news story as if it couldn’t happen to them. Not true. The fate of everybody on that Google map could be met by anybody else.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Let’s use our heads and make helmets mandatory

  1. Joan Mc Callum

    Just read this new blog. Very good, very necessary. I will send to Harry as he works in a bicycle shop, although now, I imagine it is university time again, but still interesting for him, and many others. It was great to see you this morning. Come again, any time.

    Hope you and Dunc have a good time, no rain.

  2. There is very little evidence that helmets prevent brain injuries but more importantly there is no evidence that helmet laws have an impact on reducing head injuries. The evidence that is available about prevention of injuries is at best controversial. Yeah, it seems counter intuitive but BMJ article outlines some of the issues with the different studies. http://www.bmj.com/content/346/bmj.f3817?ijkey=I5vHBog6FhaaLzX&keytype=ref

    So I’m not sure how I feel about creating legislation around a behaviour rather than spending that money on educating riders, drivers and walkers.

  3. I agree with all your reasons for wearing a helmet, and personally never ride without one. I don’t agree with mandatory laws, however. For one, they reduce the number of cyclists. In terms of bike advocacy, it has a backwards effect! Second, helmets are expensive. Low income people are being squeezed everywhere, for everything. Mandatory helmet laws disproportionality make it harder for those with less resources to ride.

    Now, if there were large scale programs that provided quality, comfortable helmets to every bike owner…I might change my mind. But unless helmet laws ensure that those with less access to resources won’t be effed over, I for sure wont support them.

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