Most Quebec cyclists don’t wear helmets

No Law Here; 59% forgo headgear compared with 46% nationally

By CHLOE FEDIO, The Gazette, June 16, 2010

More than half of the population of Quebec say they are avid cyclists, but a Statistics Canada survey reveals that the majority of those do not wear helmets when on a bike.

The 2009 Canadian Community Health Survey, made public yesterday, suggests 59 per cent of Quebecers over age 12 never wear a helmet when riding a bike, compared with the national average of 46 per cent.

Cyclists in provinces without bicycle helmet legislation, like Quebec, are less likely to use them, said Amanda Elliott, an analyst for Statistics Canada. Helmet use, according to the survey, was highest in Nova Scotia (66 per cent), the province with the strictest helmet law. Despite this, Suzanne Lareau, president of Velo-Quebec, said that number is proof that helmet laws are ineffective.

“It’s startling that in provinces that hand out fines for not wearing helmets, we’re not seeing 80 or 90 per cent of people wearing helmets. It seems like the laws are not working,” she said.

The Quebec government’s proposal to amend the Road Safety Code in the province to make helmets mandatory for children 12 and younger was frozen at the end of the session and is expected to return in the fall. There are no helmet regulations in Montreal, but they are mandatory for all ages in the city of Westmount and the municipality of CoteSt. Luc.

Lareau said wearing a helmet is a personal choice and that fining those who don’t wear a one might dissuade people from using an environmentally friendly method of transportation.

“We’re not against wearing helmets but we are against a law,” Lareau said. “We’re against the idea of penalizing people for riding their bikes, for doing physical activity. These are people who are using a transportation method that’s good for the environment, that’s good for their health.”

Patrick Morency, a public health specialist in Montreal’s health and social services department, said that while helmets can help prevent injury, a more comprehensive road safety strategy is necessary to reduce the number of injured cyclists.

“What’s killing cyclists in Montreal or seriously injuring them is vehicles -and the bigger the vehicle, the worse the injury,” Morency said. “Generally, cyclists that are killed are either hit at a high speed or by a large vehicle – and in those cases a helmet might not help much.”

Lareau said that better cooperation between cyclists and motorists is the key to preventing accidents.

“What does wearing a helmet actually do? It might reduce the chance of injury in case of an accident, but it doesn’t prevent accidents,” Lareau said. “We need to work on strategies to improve bike safety, like lowering speed limits in the city and sharing the road. That would be more effective than implementing a helmet law and then saying, ‘My job is done.’ ”

cfedio@thegazette.canwest.com

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