Manitoba considers bicycle helmet law

The Manitoba government may soon make it illegal for cyclists to ride without a helmet.

Few provinces remain that allow people to ride bikes without a helmet

Young cyclists - some wearing helmets, some not - hit the trails at Assiniboine Park in Winnipeg on Sunday. (CBC)

The Manitoba government may soon make it illegal for cyclists to ride without a helmet.

"We're looking forward and seriously considering the legislation shortly," Healthy Living Minister Jim Rondeau said in an interview.

"We're seriously discussing it and we're looking at options at how to get more [helmet] usage. We know that jurisdictions that have bike helmet laws have increased usage and so it is yet another tool."

Manitoba is one of the few provinces that currently allow people to ride bikes without a helmet.

Ontario and Alberta require protection for people under 18, while Nova Scotia, British Columbia and others require both children and adults to don helmets.

Minister avoided brain injury

Doctors Manitoba, the provincial medical association, has told the government that bike helmet laws reduce the number of head injuries that require hospitalization by as much as 45 per cent.

Rondeau knows that first-hand. He was involved in a collision with a vehicle last year while out riding his bike.

"I went sideways and hit my head and cracked my helmet. I know that if I was not wearing a helmet, I would have had a serious brain injury," he said.

The NDP government has been under pressure to adopt a helmet law for years from opposition critics and health groups.

Researchers at the University of Manitoba and the University of Ottawa released a study in 2010 that said cyclists were much more likely to wear helmets in provinces where the head gear is mandatory.

Rondeau would not reveal details of his plan — whether the law would cover in-line skating and other activities, and what kind of fine or penalty might be levelled at offenders. He said the aim of the law would not be punitive.

"We don't want to have police chasing kids to give them a ticket. What we're trying to do is look at innovative approaches."

Points to car-seat legislation

Rondeau pointed to the introduction of car-seat legislation for kids years ago. People who were found without a proper car seat for their kids were given a chance to avoid a fine.

They were given a few days to buy a car seat and show police the receipt.

While the province has not passed a helmet law so far, it has focused on encouraging people to buy helmets through subsidized helmet sales and public awareness campaigns.

Rondeau says using a proverbial carrot instead of a stick can get many people to change their ways.

"We wanted to use positive reinforcement, positive change, and we've done that … and we are seriously considering the legislation."

The bill may come as early as the spring legislature session, which starts April 17.