If you're a CBC Radio nerd like me you might have heard a renewed mandatory helmet debate this morning with the news that a cyclist died from "life-threatening head injuries" in a crash a month ago at Caledonia and Davenport. The media and police have jumped on the fact that the cyclist was not wearing a helmet.
Police claim they discovered that "the severity of the head injury indicates that he was not wearing a helmet". (I wonder why they couldn't discover he wasn't wearing a helmet by just looking for an absence of a helmet in the area. I also wonder why the media is taking the police's take on the cause of head injuries when this is normally the role of health professionals.)
The man was riding southbound at Caledonia Park Road "at high speed" as he approached a green light on Davenport, according to police.
When the light changed, the man made a sharp left turn eastward onto Davenport's westbound lane, and then lost control and fell onto the roadway.
Police also issued an advisory in the Monday release that said: "While helmets are not mandatory for those over , Traffic Services would remind everyone that helmets are your best defence against brain injuries that result from falls. Parents need to be vigilant in ensuring children wear their helmets at all times when riding their bicycles."
This news follows a study at the University of Manitoba that helmet legislation works to get more people to wear helmets (while also reducing the number of people willing to bike).
While it is often a good idea (in my opinion) for an individual to wear a helmet to reduce the chance of a head injury, the broad statistics are not clear if helmets help all that much. We should not arrive at a conclusion and decide policy based on these individual cases where people have head injuries. It is known that helmets are of very limited value in the event of a collision with a car; and many cyclists negate the protective effect of helmets by taking more risks. The promotion of helmets implicitly shifts responsibility of care to the cyclist and away from drivers, and away from the provision of safer streets by means of street calming or bicycle facilities.
The truth is, strong calls for mandatory helmet legislations happen mostly in countries - such as United States, Canada, Australia - where the cycling modal share is very low and where injuries and deaths per kilometre travelled are much higher. It's not hard to argue that a big reason for this is that it's easier to shift the blame onto cyclists rather than taking effective steps in configuring our urban spaces to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians.
What we can take away from this is that helmet wearing is only a tiny part of the overall picture. We must look to other elements of cycling policy in countries where injury/death rates are low; elements such as bike lanes/paths and early cycling education.