Bicycle Helmet Laws & General Health

The Honorable Shirley Bond, Minister of Public Safety

December 21, 2011

Dear Mrs. Bond,

RE: Bicycle Helmet Laws & General Health

I am writing to you to consider a relaxation of the all-age mandatory bicycle helmet laws. It has unfairly branded bicycle riding as a dangerous activity when if fact it is very, very safe. No study has shown any evidence than the mandatory bicycle helmet legislation has reduced the risk or severity of injuries to bicyclists, yet there are some which suggest the opposite.

‘Diseases of Lifestyle’, particularly obesity, cardiovascular & cerebrovascular disease, and diabetes are costing Canadians $4.3 billion each year, 780 million in BC alone, most of which is easily prevented with regular moderate exercise. In addition to this annual financial burden, 80,000 lives are lost each year as a result of these diseases.

Currently in Vancouver, more than 80% of car trips are less than 10km and 50% of car trips are less than 5km – distances that can be covered on a bicycle with minimal effort.

When the all-age mandatory helmet law was introduced, cycling numbers dropped by an average of 30% in all  areas in BC, and up to 50% in some communities. The only group which did not show such a decline was the sport & recreational cycling groups – cycling trips which are not made in place of car journeys.

A recent study in the Netherlands showed that for people who switched from car to bicycle for most trips resulted in about 9 times more gains in life-years than the losses due to pollution & traffic accidents. This is in a country with a national bicycle mode share average of 29% of all trips; and no mandatory helmet legislation. A study published in the British Medical Journal in 1994 showed the benefits of cycling outweighed the risks by as much as 20 to 1, and a related study in 2009 concluded with a similar result.

Given the enormous health benefits of cycling and the non-existant health benefits of driving a car, can you please explain why you and the government continue to single out cycling amongst transport options as dangerous enough to require mandatory helmet usage?

Sincerely,

Kyle Zheng

References:

http://helmetfreedom.org/133/general-health-benefits-outweigh-the-risks/

2006 census Commuting Distances- http://www12.statcan.ca/census-recensement/2006/dp-pd/hlt/97-561/T605-eng.cfm?Lang=E&T=605&GH=2&GF=933&G5=0&SC=1&S=1&O=A

Death Statistics in Canada- http://www.acbr.com/causdeat.htm

Helmet Laws in British Columbia- http://cyclehelmets.org/1103.html

The Obesity Epidemic in Canada- http://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/LOP/ResearchPublications/prb0511-e.htm

Johan de Hartog J, Boogaard H, Nijland H, Hoek G, 2010, “Do the Health Benefits of Cycling Outweigh the Risks?”
Davis, A, National Health Service, 2010, “Value For Money: An economic assessment of investment in walking and cycling”

 

UPDATE: The following is a letter in response to my letter addressed to Michael de Jong on December 2011 “Bicycle Helmet Laws and General Health”

Population and Public Health HLTH:EX hlth.pph@gov.bc.ca
Feb 1, 2012
Dear Mr Zheng:
Thank you for your email of December 21, 2011, addressed to the Honourable Michael de Jong, Minister of Health, requesting changes to the mandatory requirements of bicycle helmet use. Your letter has been forwarded to me for response. I apologize for the delay in responding.
I appreciate your recognition of the importance of cycling as a form of regular physical activity for prevention of common chronic diseases in our population.
The Ministry of Health stands firmly behind the mandatory all-age bike helmet law. The law was passed in 1995, with the support of all political parties as well as health professions and public organizations. There is strong evidence that bike helmets are effective in reducing both the severity of head injuries and deaths, and that all-age mandatory bike helmet law increase helmet wearing. You are correct in stating that a few studies challenge the bike helmet effectiveness and the importance of bike helmet laws. However, on balance, the evidence base is strongly supportive of bike helmet use and bike helmet laws. This rigorous evidence includes:
published, peer-reviewed scientific studies on: bike helmet efficacy, the effectiveness of bike helmet laws and all-age mandatory laws in increasing helmet use, and the lack of an effect of bike helmet laws on reducing levels of cycling;
  • surveys on levels of physical activity, recreational and commuter cycling in British Columbia and across Canada; and
  • hospitalization and trauma centre data on cycling head injuries from across Canada and in BC.
As you mention, improvements in infrastructure safety in some European countries over the past seven decades have significantly increased cyclist safety. This has no doubt boosted the popularity of cycling, physical activity levels and gains in life-years for many people. In BC, bike helmet use and the mandatory all-age bike helmet law remains a critical component of public policy for injury prevention. Additionally, the Province is supportive of transportation infrastructure improvements such as trails for cycling and walking. The $30 million Community Recreation Grant program recently announced by the Province provides funds for local government facilities including bike trails and paths.
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your questions and concerns.
Sincerely,
Laurie Woodland
Executive Director
Chronic Disease, Built Environment, Injury Prevention Branch
Population and Public Health
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