Cyclists should be forced to wear helmets: study

A new study is calling on provincial governments to pass laws that force cyclists to wear helmets.

A new study is calling on provincial governments to pass laws that force cyclists to wear helmets.

The study, published in the August edition of the journal Injury Prevention and conducted by researchers at the University of Manitoba and the University of Ottawa, suggests cyclists are much more likely to wear helmets and avoid injuries if they live in a province with a mandatory helmet law.

There is little consistency across Canada in terms of helmet use legislation.

British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick all have mandatory helmet legislation for people of all ages.

A handful of other provinces have adopted bicycle helmet laws that apply only to those under the age of 18.

Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Quebec have no bicycle helmet laws.

Manitoba Liberals have been pushing for a helmet law for years but the NDP government has refused. The province's medical association has also called for a helmet law.

Manitoba has instead opted to keep helmet use optional, and has tried to encourage helmet use through promotional campaigns and by offering subsidized helmets that cost as little as $10.

"I mean, it's atrocious that in 2010, every province does not have some sort of helmet legislation," said Ryan Zarychanski, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Manitoba, who co-led the study with Jessica Dennis, a graduate student at the University of Ottawa.

"Clearly, helmet legislation works and clearly it reduces serious head injuries and facial lacerations."

The researchers used data collected from the Canadian Community Health Survey, which relies on information collected from the long-form census.

They compared 2005 helmet use figures involving more than 4,600 respondents in three provinces with very different rules for cyclists.

Helmets were worn by 73.2 per cent of respondents in Nova Scotia, where helmet use is mandatory for everyone. The rate was just 40.6 per cent in Ontario, where helmets are mandatory for young people only, and a mere 26.9 in Saskatchewan.

Critics of helmet laws have argued that making helmets mandatory might discourage people from cycling. But the study found bicycle use remained constant in Alberta and Prince Edward Island after those provinces adopted helmet laws in 2002 and 2003 respectively.

"Contrary to popular belief, provincial helmet legislation does not cause people to cycle less, but it does result in increased helmet use, which has been shown to prevent serious head injuries," Zarychanski said.