Calling for a law making bicycle helmets mandatory for children under the age of 18
Wednesday, June 20, 2012 - 14:32
Montreal, Wednesday, June 20, 2012 – A health promotion committee made up of professors from the pediatrics departments of Montreal's four university hospital centres (UHC) (CHUQ, CHUS, CHUSJ, and the MCH of the MUHC) was created to develop joint proposals on key themes deemed important for the health and well-being of children and adolescents, with bicycle safety being a priority. The UHC are calling upon the government to pass a provincial law that would support their efforts to raise public awareness about the importance of bicycle helmets. Compared to a number of other Canadian provinces, Quebec is underperforming in this area.The advocacy group aims to achieve several goals:
- Promote education on bicycle safety among both cyclists and motorists.
- Foster the development of an environment that is conducive to bicycling for children and adolescents.
- Increase helmet use rates among children under the age of 18 through improved helmet access for children from underprivileged backgrounds and through the adoption of a provincial law.
Bicycle-related injuries are common and the 3rd leading cause of injuries among children aged 10 to 14. Most of these injuries are due to excessive speed on the part of the victims, their inexperience in controlling the bicycle, and a lack of protective equipment.
Young children are still developing their motor skills, which puts them at risk of falling as they learn to control their bicycles. A high centre of gravity also makes it harder for them to keep their balance, particularly when it comes to manoeuvring the bicycle and making turns. Children under the age of 10 do not have the judgement or skills they need to avoid obstacles, such as pedestrians and other cyclists. Before the age of 10, children do not always fully grasp the risks posed by traffic.
Children aged 10 to 14 are in a period of rapid growth and development. They may feel confident enough to try high-speed acrobatics and complicated tricks.
The most serious injuries affect the head and brain, and traumas that may seem harmless on the surface can still cause permanent brain injuries. The human skull is 1 cm thick and can be shattered by an impact at just 7 to 10 km/h, whereas cyclists ride at speeds of between 10 and 16 km/h. A properly fitted helmet prevents the head from absorbing the force of the impact from an accident or fall, which can reduce the risks of a severe head trauma or brain injury by up to 85%. Four out of five head traumas could be avoided if every cyclist wore a helmet.
The most common reasons for avoiding helmet use are that helmets are uncomfortable and don't "look cool." Friends, parents and safety laws are considered as positive influences that contribute to helmet use.
In addition to the human benefits from fewer injuries, hospitalizations and prevented deaths, it has been estimated that each dollar invested in helmets saves $30 in costs to society. Each brain injury results in over $400,000 in costs for our health care system at the time of the trauma. These costs remain about the same in the years following the incident from indirect expenses and the required medium- and long-term follow-up.
Six Canadian provinces have laws on the use of bicycle helmets. They are mandatory for people of all ages in British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. In Alberta and Ontario, they are mandatory up to the age of 18.
Although Quebec still does not have a law on helmet use, the city of Sherbrooke took the initiative to adopt a law requiring the mandatory use of helmets for cyclists under the age of 18. This resolution was ratified in March 2011, making Sherbrooke a pioneering city in this field.
In Alberta, the bicycle helmet law increased helmet use from 75% to 92% among children and from 30% to 63% among teens. In regions with a mandatory helmet law, injury rates are 25% lower on average than in regions where these laws are not in force. No association has been noted between the enactment of these laws and a decrease in the number of cyclists. In Alberta and Prince Edward Island, bicycle use did not decrease following the implementation of a mandatory helmet law either among cyclists between the ages of 12 and 17 or among those 18 and older. It therefore cannot be claimed that a law on mandatory helmet use will decrease the number of cyclists, at least not in Canada.The joint mission of the four UHC is to provide specialized and ultraspecialized care to children and adolescents in the province. As the summer vacation period approaches, it is imperative for the public to remember that bicycle helmets can save lives. Protecting your head is important to enjoy life to the fullest, and this law would indeed be a way to ensure that everyone stays safe.
Senior Media Relations Consultant, CHU Sainte-Justine