Saturday, November 1, 2008

Helmet legislation

As expected the piece on helmets received more comments than any other post that I have put up.

For more information on the futility of mandatory helmet legislation go to:

The Vehicular Cyclist is edited by friend Avery Burdett. It is Avery that we have to thank for fighting mandatory helmet legislation in Ontario.

Although any person under eighteen is required by law to wear a helmet it is my understanding that no one has ever been charged. Except, that is, for Dougie Kerr. Dougie was riding to work one day and was stopped by a young police officer and given a ticket for not having a helmet. Dougie does look younger than his sixty years but I don't think anyone would mistake him for a teenager. The young officer would hear nothing of Dougie's claim that the law applied only to those under eighteen. A few days later Dougie did get a call from the officer saying that he had dropped the charge. No apology of course.


dutch me gently, please said...

hi mike,

great to see that you are writing again.

allow me to weigh in with my opinion. i lived in canada for many years, and now live in amsterdam. i also ride motorcycles where there's been a similar debate over helmets.

to my mind the answer is one of an appropriate response to risk.

in the motorcycling world most of us have come to accept that only an idiot would ride without a helmet; the risk of traumatic head injury resulting from a motorcycle accident makes mandatory helmets an acceptable response. and the same should hold for bicycling. when i putter around amsterdam on my opafiets, the risk of traumatic head injury that i face should i have an accident is reasonably low. when i am out on a training ride and doing 30+kph, the risk is much higher. therefore, i wear a helmet when i train, and i don't wear a helmet when i putter.

generally i think that people should have the right to make up their own mind as to what constitutes acceptable levels of risk, and in the netherlands most people do: cycling enthusiasts generally don helmets at the same time that they put on their lycra.

still, as regards helmet laws, i support mandating helmet usage for high-risk cyclists. it's a no-brainer(pardon the pun) when the cyclists are children. for adults it's more complicated, and i don't know whether to err on the side of individual freedom or on the side of social responsibility. but i do feel that my tax dollars should not have to pay for the medical coverage of someone who wilfully engages in reckless behaviour. maybe we don't need to mandate helmet usage for adults who train on road bikes or who ride mountain bikes through forests, but maybe we should hold them accountable for their own medical bills if they knock themselves silly.

of course then the problem becomes one of deciding where to draw the line between safe and reckless riding.

it's too bad that common sense in not so common any more.

Anonymous said...

I think you make some valid points.

Here in Chicago, many helmeted riders have an anarchic aversion to traffic.

Likewise, as you point out riders give more weight to trends when choosing their bikes than getting a useful design that accommodates their riding needs. Packing a messenger bag with groceries, U lock, and other sundries then is both uncomfortable to the back and distorts the center of gravity and balance.

Education may help although I am not sure. Chicago cyclists tend to be the well traveled wired in set. Despite all the good information available on line and the very real chance many of the riders have been to the Netherlands and other centers of sensible riding, trendy tends to trump thoughtful.

I think what you observed in Europe is more the result of a society where a wider portion of the population ride bikes. When everyone rides as opposed to the trend setters, sense holds sway.

Peter said...

Hi Mike

I will not enter into the helmet debate as it is as divisive as many other debates, like religion, politics and fenders on bikes. I know Dougie looks young and rides young as well but I think that the Officer was a tad over the top. Dougie should be cuffed that he was mistaken as under eighteen especially without a helmet on. Dougie should frame that ticket.


Anonymous said...

Aw geez, Dutch, here we go with the "I don't wanna pay for your medical bills after you crash and crack your head open" bit again.

If cycling was outlawed altogether, bringing the injury rate down to ZERO, your taxes and health care premiums wouldn't drop a dime. Cycling injuries are merely a drop in the health care ocean, statistically insignificant.

Now, if you're REALLY worried about bearing the burden of other's "irresponsible behavior", you'd be standing outside McDonald's, or your local tobbacconists, telling all that enter that you REFUSE to pay for their heart attacks and strokes. Mandatory cholestoral checks and regulated diets for all!

Of course, you'd be called a kook (if nothing stronger), and reminded to MYOFB.

So why is it any different with regards to helmets?

mc. said...

+1, anonymous. Excellent comment.

dutch me gently, please said...


As a matter of fact, I do live in a country where you can be denied surgery if it is proven that you are not a responsible individual, where you pay higher insurance costs if you're not leading a healthy lifestyle, and where you are expected to cover your own costs if you screw up. It's a particularly North American form of selfishness and arrogance (see R. Wright, "What is America?) to believe that freedom includes the right be be, and do, stupid, social costs be damned. The overtly challenging tone of your post belies the panic you feel at the thought of your precious personal freedoms being challenged. Gun control? But it's statistically insignificant. Drunk driving? No way, it's Darwinism at its finest...

Frankly, I believe that I indicated some discomfort with the idea of having to mandate safety when personal accountability would be preferable, and I acknowledge that it's a slippery slope. And I'm fortunate to live in a country where these issues are not common, but the cultural differences between what I saw in Canada and what I see in the Netherlands highlight one of the reasons that I would not go back to live in the current North America.

But to each his or her own. We're fortunate that we live in a world that has enough room for all of us, with places that we can feel (mostly) comfortable.

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, Dutch... I'm "stupid" for refusing to wear a bicycle helmet.

Just like all those people too "stupid" to play the lottery, because you KNOW one day, you're gonna hit it big.

You wanna raise my health insurance premiums for refusing to wear a helmet? Go right ahead, as long as the increase is commensurate with the risk. I can afford the extra dollar or two.

All your "discomfort" and hand-wringing doesn't excuse the fact that you're all too willing to criminalize my behavior based on some irrational fears.

Sort of like our soon-to-be (but not soon enough!) ex-president "agonizing" over his decision to invade Iraq.