Critics decry 'nanny state' helmet bill: MPP's proposed law would affect all cyclists, skateboarders and scooter users
National Post Friday, November 5, 2004
Page: A8 Section: Canada Byline: April Lindgren and Scott Stinson Dateline: TORONTO
Source: CanWest News Service and National Post TORONTO -
MPPs from all parties are pushing through a private member's bill that will require adults to wear helmets when they take to public roads on bicycles, scooters, skateboards and inline skates, a move that critics decry as "nanny-state" meddling that will do little to reduce serious head injuries."
This bill will fight that unfortunate human weakness that makes us act irresponsibly," Liberal MPP John Milloy said yesterday of his proposal, which unanimously passed second reading in the legislature and was referred to a committee for further study."There are those who say that this bill will interfere with basic human rights and freedoms, and I guess there are a number of arguments to address that," the Kitchener MPP said. "The most obvious one is that we have a public health care system, and the cost of treating someone in that system who's had a preventable accident is something that we should not bear; it's something that we should ask people to prevent."Only children under 18 years of age are now required to wear helmets while riding bicycles on public roads in Ontario, and a similar law exists in Alberta. In British Columbia, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, mandatory-helmet laws apply to all ages.
Avery Burdett, who led a campaign against a sweeping helmet law that was proposed for Ontario in the early 1990s, said yesterday such legislation is "completely stupid" since "there is no evidence that bike helmets make any difference to the number of serious head injuries or fatalities."Mr. Burdett said Dalton McGuinty, the Premier, opposed the mandatory-helmet law that was introduced in the province in 1995. The former Conservative government exempted adults from that legislation." I met with Dalton McGuinty a few times -- he used to ride his bike to work when he was an Ottawa MPP -- and he agreed that the way to promote safety was by educating cyclists, not by introducing helmet laws. I'm shocked that he would allow this to happen. It's staggering. I'm surprised this government hasn't got better things to do." A spokesman for the Premier's Office said yesterday Mr. McGuinty would not comment on the proposed bill because it is not government legislation.
In supporting the proposed changes to the Highway Traffic Act, Mr. Milloy and Jim Watson, Minister of Consumer and Business Services, both recalled the May, 1996, death of their friend Carl Gillis. The 26-year-old former student leader was not wearing a helmet when he fell while inline skating in Ottawa, hit his head and subsequently died." I had the sad task of identifying Carl, and it was a moment that I will never forget," recalled Mr. Watson, who said he has kept a file of cycling and inline skating accidents ever since.
MPPs cited research showing that there has been a 26% drop in head injuries among children since Ontario's helmet rule came into effect, but Mr. Burdett said helmet laws curb only "bumps and bruises," not serious head injuries. "A helmet is not going to help you much if you are hit by a car or a truck," he said, noting that part of the drop in reported injuries should be attributed to an overall decrease in bicycle use after helmet laws are enacted.
Mr. Burdett has studied Transport Canada data going back to 1975, and he noted it shows cycling fatalities have dropped over that time at a rate similar to pedestrian fatalities, even after bicycle-helmet laws came into effect and even though people travelling on foot are not subject to such laws. He said the drop in fatalities is therefore due to changes in motorist behaviour -- things such as a reduction in impaired driving and better education programs for drivers.Studies in Australia, New Zealand and the United States have also reached similar findings.
While Tory MPP Garfield Dunlop voted enthusiastically for Mr. Milloy's initiative yesterday, Conservative Joe Tascona qualified his support, noting that he would like to examine the issue in more detail to determine "how far does the government, especially this government, that likes to intervene in people's lives, go to deal with what people should be doing out of common sense.
"Citizens for Safe Cycling, an Ottawa advocacy group, said yesterday that while it encourages all cyclists to wear helmets, it would rather see the government promote safety education." [The law] promotes the misconception that wearing a helmet is the only way to prevent injury," said spokesman Patrick Wray, who added wearing protective gear gives some cyclists "a false sense of security.
"Mr. Burdett was more blunt. "It's the nanny state all over again," he said. "It's an issue raised by people not involved in cycling who want to be seen as doing something.
"Mr. Milloy said it will be up to the government to decide how soon his bill is dealt with by the committee. It must then go before the legislature for final reading.