Montreal

Robert Poëti to decide on mandatory bike helmet law in Quebec

Quebec Transport Minister Robert Poëti says he does not see the need to force people to wear bike helmets, but warns he has still not decided on whether or not to make them mandatory for cyclists.

Quebec Transport Minister recommends use of helmets, but says a law may be hard to enforce

Bicycle helmets are mandatory in a number of provinces, but not in Quebec.

Quebec Transport Minister Robert Poëti says he doesn't see a need to pass a law to force people to wear bike helmets, but says he hasn't made a final decision.

In an interview with CBC News, Poëti said such law would be difficult to enforce.

"What would police do if they find an eight-year-old without a helmet. Give him a ticket? Take him to his parents' house? Enforceability of that is difficult. I think parents also have a social responsibility," Poëti, a former police officer, said.

"'Do we need a law to improve our [safety] when we use a bike?' The answer is no."

Poëti added that the ministry is working on the Highway Safety Code, and he has yet to make a final decision on whether the use of helmets should be legislated.

At a news conference on April 19, while he announced funding for the Grand Prix Cyclistes, Poëti handed Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre a helmet because he'd seen him riding a bike without a helmet a few weeks earlier at the launch of the new Bixi season.

"I don't think that we need a law to talk about safety and prevention and I invite you, Denis, to wear it moving forward," Poëti said.

"Does it take a law to force people to wear a bike helmet in an urban environment or all over Quebec? I'll respond in another way. Did it take a law to ask our youth and our people who ski to wear a protective helmet? The answer is no."

He'll have to make a decision soon — he plans on tabling revisions to the Highway Safety Code before the end of this legislative sitting, in June, or at the beginning of the next sitting in September.

Poëti insists he is still reflecting on the issue. He pointed to the province's decision to increase demerit points for drivers caught texting and driving because ad campaigns warning of the dangers have not worked.

"We have good examples sometimes where we don't have a law. And in the other way, when I'm going to look at the cellular in the car, we have to improve the law because it doesn't work. Prevention doesn't work with cell [phones] right now," he said.

Cycling special advisor Garneau says focus on respect

Transportation Minister Robert Poëti named Olympic cyclist Louis Garneau his special advisor for bike safety. (Ryan Hicks/CBC)

Last summer, Poëti brought on former Olympic cyclist Louis Garneau as a special advisor for bike safety.

Garneau said he met privately with Poëti for an hour in January to discuss the issue.

"Personally, I recommend to use the helmet all the time and create the law. But I am not sure the minister agrees with that. I think [the government] needs more time," he said.

Garneau, a cycling equipment manufacturer, believes the province needs to start a public awareness campaign to improve driver-cyclist relations.

"You can't start a war or violence between the two," he said, adding that motorists need to look at cyclists as human beings before anything else.

"Respect for men, women and children on bicycles. These are human beings on bicycles. You need to respect life from the start."

Divisive debate

Making bike helmets mandatory is a divisive debate.

In 2013, a coalition of doctors — including pediatricians, neurosurgeons, and emergency room doctors — wrote an open letter to the Parti Québécois government asking it to mandate bike helmets for people under the age of 18.

In it they wrote, "a helmet correctly fitted can reduce the risk of serious head and brain trauma by 85 per cent."

Vélo Québec's long-standing position is against mandatory helmet laws.

The cycling organization believes such a law would be difficult to enforce and dissuade people from cycling.

Instead, the group wants the province to focus on creative ways to make the roads safer. It also points out that there has never been a consensus reached on mandating bike helmets.

In 2012, Ontario's chief coroner suggested making helmets mandatory for all cyclists. A 2013 Quebec coroner however would not go so far, instead recommending the province encourage the use of helmets.

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