Manitoba's bicycle helmet law will take effect within a few months, and first-time offenders will be able to avoid paying a fine by taking a new online safety quiz.
Healthy Living Minister Jim Rondeau is finalizing the details of the law, which was approved by the legislature last spring. The aim, he says, is to promote helmet use while using penalties as something of a last resort.
"Our goal is to actually not collect fines. Our goal would be for people to understand the law and put helmets on their head right away," Rondeau said in an interview.
The law will require anyone under 18 to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle or face a $50 fine.
But young cyclists caught on a first offence will be allowed to skip the fine by completing a test that will educate them about bicycling safety.
"We're going to develop — are developing — a question-and-answer on bike safety that people can do as an alternative to paying a fine," Rondeau said.
Law will come into effect before spring
The law will come into effect before spring, he said, and be accompanied by a public education campaign to make cyclists don helmets as automatically as motorists wear seat belts.
When the law takes effect, Manitoba will join provinces such as Ontario, where minors are also required to wear helmets. But Manitoba's approach stops short of laws in Nova Scotia and British Columbia that apply to adults as well.
The exemption for adults has been criticized by physicians, the opposition Liberals and many cyclists, who say kids watch what their parents do.
"If I look at parents, they're going to be the example that kids will follow. And I think if you don't bring it in for everybody, you're going to wind up getting a bad example," said Charles Burchill, an avid cyclist who commutes by bicycle to his downtown job every day.
Doctors Manitoba, the provincial medical association, has said a broader law would reduce the number of severe head injuries suffered by cyclists every year.
Rondeau is not ruling out an extension of the law to adults at some later time.
"Those are discussions we'll have on the compliance and we will talk about further measures as we see compliance move forward. But right now, this is the next logical step — to apply to children. Let's see what happens."