It amazes me how heated emotions get on this one issue. Helmet use has been in the news again after a helmetless man struck a pedestrian on Vancouver Island and died as the result of his injuries.
On April 1st this year, the Vancouver Observer took the helmet law to a “logical” place and suggested (tongue firmly in cheek) a helmet law for pedestrians.
In BC, the provincial helmet law was enacted in 1996 -the first in Canada. The City of Vancouver highlights the relevant parts of the Motor Vehicle Act. The Vancouver Police Department may issue helmetless bike riders $29 fines.
Helmet-law proponents cite studies that show wearing a helmet reduces the likelihood of brain injury when falling off your bike. Countless people who have fallen off their bike, struck their head, and not had a brain injury cite their helmet as the reason and emotionally support the requirement that everyone wear a helmet to save themselves and not become a burden on the public health care system.
Helmet-law opponents cite studies that show that bringing in helmet laws have, in a number of jurisdictions, had little to no effect on the rate of serious head injuries due to cycling. Countless people who have been cycling for years without a helmet and not fallen off their bike and suffered a brain injury point to themselves as evidence that there is no need to way a helmet. Opponents also cite studies that indicate helmet laws have suppressed bicycle use. Others view helmet laws as governments over-regulating people’s lives.
De facto helmet use in Vancouver
In Vancouver, helmet use varies by the type of cyclist. In my experience most commuter cyclists wear a lid. Almost all the hard-core roadies do too. The helmet use rate drops considerably when you look at the casual cyclists: those on the seawall, or just out cruising the neighbourhood. The helmet-law has been cited as an obstacle to implementing a bike-share program in Vancouver.
I’m not going to argue one side or another here. It’s almost impossible to find objective information on one side or the other: the statistics all seem flawed or skewed in some manner, and personal stories, while compelling, are anecdotes, not data. Instead, I’m interested in the discussion: Do you wear a helmet when cycling? All the time? Why or why not?
For what it’s worth, I always wear a helmet, and I require my kids to do the same.
Last modified: April 2, 2012