ONTARIO'S MISGUIDED BIKE POLICY
EXPOSED BY OWN SURVEY
A survey of over 1,000 Ontario residents conducted on behalf of
the Province's Ministry of Transportation at the beginning of
October 1994 showed 609 (61%) of the respondents are cyclists.
Cycling not Dangerous, Government Dangerous
Twenty nine of the cyclists (5%) reported being involved in a
collision during the previous year or so. Only eight (1.3%) needed
medical treatment, and one was admitted to hospital. Six cyclists
(1%) incurred a blow to the head, and only 2 of those (0.3%)
required medical treatment. The survey did not indicate which if
any of those incurring head injuries were wearing helmets.
The results tend to confirm what many cycling organizations have
claimed all along, that cycling is inherently safe and Ontario's
legislation is a solution looking for a problem. Other figures
from the Ministry's Road Safety unit show very low rates of serious
injury to cyclists on Ontario roads. In comparison, injuries to
motorists and their passengers are at epidemic levels.
Some will Quit, Others will Defy the Law
The figures suggest that large numbers of Ontario's over five
million cyclists are either going to quit cycling or defy the law
rather than wear a helmet. 16% of all cyclists indicated that a
$90 fine will not make them more likely to wear a helmet, and 12%
said that Ontario's law will not either. Ontario's mandatory
bicycle helmet law comes into effect on October 1, 1995.
Following the 1991 introduction of helmet legislation in
Australia, all states which carried out "before and after" surveys
experienced around 25% reductions in cycling. In some surveys, over
25% of those still cycling have refused to comply with the law.
Some Oz cyclists have been jailed rather than wear a helmet.
Is Wearing a Lid Dangerous?
Another alarming figure shows a disproportionate number of helmeted
cyclists are involved in collisions. Although only 26% of cyclists
wear a helmet all the time, and 13% wear one part of the time for
a maximum of 39%, a whopping 48% of collisions involve a cyclist
wearing a helmet. An explanation for this could be that helmeted
cyclists ride more than unhelmeted cyclists. But one would expect
there to be a significant offset resulting from the ability of
cyclists who ride frequently to avoid dangerous situations. In
other words, if we associate helmet use with cycling skills, then
there should be a lower accident rate among helmeted cyclists. A
likely explanation is that once helmeted, a significant proportion
cyclists ride less carefully. Let's face it, few mountain bikers
would do the really scary things they do without their space lids!
Unfortunately, the benefits of a helmet have been grossly exaggerated by
heavily government-subsidized groups like the Ontario Head Injury Association,
Safe Kids Canada and the World Health Organization. This can only lead to some
cyclists to believe they are invulnerable. All cyclists need to realize that the
Canadian Standards Association certification requires only that a helmet to
survive a drop from 1.5 metres with a head form weighing about 5 kilos in it.
The test is equivalent to a fall. A helmet is not much good if a cyclist gets
launched towards a hydro pole from a bike at 30 or 40kph with the full force of
a 60 or 70 kilo body behind the helmet. No cyclist is likely to survive a
direct hit from a car travelling at anything more than 20 kph or so. Perhaps the
over dependence on a helmet explains why the Australian legislation has failed.
Any reduction in Oz fatalities can be attributed to declines in cycling not helmet
Reelection More Important than a Few More Dead Cyclists
The possible association between helmet use and higher accident
rates should be disturbing news for the Provincial government. The
Province's entire bicycle safety program is based on helmet
legislation. It originally promised that legislation would be a
part of a general cycle safety education program aimed at
cyclists and motorists. At the time, many of us were sceptical,
particularly when the bill's sponsor, MPP Dianne Cunningham from
London, suggested delaying implementation of the legislation
until after the Provincial election so no one would lose their
seat over it. Clearly, getting reelected was more important than a
few dead cyclists (assuming she believes her own helmet
A Failure Looms
As in Australia, Ontario helmet legislation will fail on many
counts. Wearing a helmet will not prevent one single collision.
Cycling will decline and the health and environmental benefits
will be lost. It may give some cyclists and most parents a false
sense of security, and may actually increase the accident rate
among cyclists as some studies have suggested in Australia.
Ontario's law only applies on roads, not on a bike path or off-
road where the dangers are greater. Since many cyclists defy
existing laws, this will just be another one they defy. Maybe some
cyclists will go to jail. It is silly to ask police forces to
enforce laws where there is no victim. Besides cops should be out
catching criminals, not harassing cyclists.
Education not Legislation
The potential for the greatest crash prevention exists in child
education and in controlling the excessive and reckless use of
motor vehicles. But I won't hold my breath for the Province to
act on these.
[Update: it should be noted that the socialist NDP government responsible for this policy
was defeated at the polls and replaced by a Progressive Conservative government in 1995.
Dianne Cunningham, the private member who sponsored the bill was appointed
to the Cabinet and was present when the Premier, Mike Harris, reduced the scope of the bill to