A recent study published in the British Medical Journal looking at 66,716 hospital admissions between 1994 and 2008 has found that helmet laws had a minimal impact on the rates of hospital admissions for cycling-related head injuries in Canada.
It suggests that while helmet use reduces head injuries and should be encouraged, there is more to making cyclists safe than forcing them to wear headgear.
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The study compared hospital admission rates for cycling-related injuries across Canadian provinces and territories, where six out of ten provinces implemented mandatory helmet legislation between 1994 and 2003. It found that between 1994 and 2003, head injury rates among young people decreased by 54.0% in provinces with helmet legislation as compared with 33.1% in provinces and territories without legislation. Among adults, head injury rates decreased by 26.0% in provinces with legislation but remained constant in provinces without legislation.
While the greatest decrease in hospital admission rates for head injuries between 1994 and 2008 occurred in provinces with helmet legislation, this was found to be part of an encouraging overall trend that began before provincial helmet legislation was implemented.
The study suggests the importance of looking at helmet laws in the context of Canadian provincial and municipal safety campaigns, improvements to cycling infrastructure, and the passive uptake of helmets.
In Ontario, a recent report of the Office of the Chief Coroner examining cycling-related deaths has recommended adopting a “complete streets” approach that focuses on the safety of all road users in the design and redevelopment of communities throughout the province.
In addition to mandatory helmet laws for all cyclists and legislative changes to improve clarity and consistency between cyclists and other road users, the Chief Coroner’s report recommends the following:
- The development of an Ontario Cycling Plan to guide the development of policy, legislation and regulations and the commitment of infrastructure funding to support cycling in Ontario.
- A comprehensive cycling safety public awareness and education strategy, starting in public schools, and continuing through the purchase of every new and used bicycle and through driver’s license testing.
- Strategies to promote and support helmet use for cyclists of all ages.
- The establishment of a “one-meter” rule for vehicles when passing cyclists.
- Prioritizing the development of paved shoulders on provincial highways.
- Mandatory side-guards for heavy trucks.
- Enforcement, education and public safety activities targeted to the specific issues of cycling safety identified in a given community.