Canada's Minister of Transport Knows a Lot About Helmets

Marc Garneau

Marc Garneau knows his way around helmets; that one he is holding in the photo was probably useful in his three trips on the space shuttle. He has a degree in engineering physics and a doctorate in electrical engineering from London’s Imperial College, so he probably knows his way around data. To top it all off, he is the Minister of Transport in the Government of Canada, where he has been doing a bang-up job, having set up a task force on cycling and safety. He has also long been a personal hero of mine, and the kind of person we want in such an important Ministry.

So it was with some surprise when people in the cycling community saw Garneau tweet about people riding without helmets. Because the data are pretty clear that more people die because of crappy bike infrastructure than they do from hitting their heads. Living in Ottawa, he would know that Nusrat Jahan was wearing a helmet when she got the right hook from a construction truck on Laurier Avenue. Or that Meg Dussault was also wearing a helmet when she was hooked by a cement mixer. But so far as I know, Minister Garneau has never tweeted about why trucks don’t have side guards.

But that’s fine, he is the Minister of Transport and wearing a helmet never hurt anyone. Riding in Toronto as I do with the crappy bike infrastructure and people parking cars in every bike lane, I wear one. I think seniors and drivers should wear them. There is nothing wrong in encouraging helmet use, even if the alternatives (like investing in infrastructure) are better for everyone. And I have never met anyone who is actually anti-helmet, they are really more pro-infrastructure.

But it is this tweet that disappointed me, where he complains about pedestrians texting. It's like he is taunting us, because here he has entered a data free zone, where there is a serious campaign going on, sometimes funded by the auto industry, to criminalize walking and texting or listening to music, to shift the blame from drivers who hit pedestrians to the pedestrians themselves. You see it everywhere now, where drivers treat walking and texting as dangerous driving and texting. It is the new fake equivalence. Look at this response to Globe and Mail columnist Oliver Moore when he tweeted about a new study on how much time people spend driving while looking at phones:

Mark Garneau remains a hero of mine, and his most recent tweet on the subject gives me hope.

I think the reaction was due to the fact that the lack of helmets, like walking with a phone, have become the standard excuses of the auto-centric world, that people who ride or text deserve what they get. That it is their own fault.

They also want cyclists and pedestrians out of their way, off their roads. They want to inculcate what Mikael Colville-Andersen calls a culture of fear. So why not scare them into thinking that riding a bike is really dangerous, or that people out walking should be acting like scared rabbits? In fact, both are safe, fun and healthy activities.

Look at the stats. It is cars and trucks that are doing the killing, not the lack of helmets or the using of phones. To me, it sounds like the Minister of Transport is listening to the drivers more than the cyclists or pedestrians. He should represent everyone on the roads.