New Canadian Study Claims Helmet Laws Don't Affect Cycling Ridership Numbers

dutch riders helmet image

From The Moederfiets or Motherbike

Canada's ten provinces have varying rules about bicycle helmets; some make them mandatory, some mandatory for those under 18 years old, and some with no legislation. It makes for an interesting study on The effects of provincial bicycle helmet legislation on helmet use and bicycle ridership in Canada.

While only the abstract is available, one of the authors told the University of Manitoba News:

"Contrary to popular belief, provincial helmet legislation does not cause people to cycle less, but it does result in increased helmet use, which has been shown to prevent serious head injuries,"said Dr. Zarychanski.

Many disagree.


cycling in Montreal, via Azure

In our post Do Bicycle Helmet Laws Do More Harm Than Good? we noted the study by Dorothy Robinson of the University of New England in Australia. She concluded that helmet laws have a dramatic effect on ridership:

In Melbourne, surveys were conducted pre-law in May 1990 and post-law in May 1991, at the same 64 sites and same observation times. Counts of child and adult cyclists declined by 42% and 29% respectively. In total, 297 more helmeted cyclists were counted than pre-law, compared with 1100 fewer cyclists. It's as if the law didn't so much encourage helmet wearing as discourage cycling!

The Globe and Mail also noted that helmet laws "can be a turn-off for cyclists."

Nonsense, say the authors of the study, which appears in the August edition of the journal Injury Prevention. After studying health data, they found that helmet legislation introduced in two jurisdictions, PEI and Alberta, had no negative impact on bicycle use.

Cycling advocacy groups responded quickly, especially in generally topless Montreal.

Even the province's main cycling lobby, Vélo-Québec, opposes helmet laws. Suzanne Lareau, head of the group, said bicycle paths and a strong bicycle culture, along the model of European cities, have contributed more to cycling safety than helmets have.

Montreal is closer to cities such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam, where helmet use is rare but cycling widespread, she said.

"[Mandatory laws] put into people's heads that bicycling is so dangerous that you've got to wear a helmet," Ms. Lareau said. "It's also saying that a helmet is a panacea. But that's false. A car can hit you at 70 kilometres an hour, and helmet or no helmet, you have very little chance of coming out alive."

imperial stormtroopers helmets

Helmets do provide protection and reduce injuries; everyone should wear one, including Imperial Stormtroopers, drivers, and pedestrians. Why single out cyclists?

More in the Globe and Mail
More in Treehugger on bike safety, helmets and helmet legislation.
Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic on Bicycle Helmets, or Lack Thereof
Do Helmet Promotion Campaigns Instill a Fear of Cycling?
Helmets for Cyclists vs. Full Body Armor for Drivers
Do Bicycle Helmet Laws Do More Harm Than Good?

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