The Honorable Shirley Bond, Minister of Public Safety
December 28, 2011
Dear Mrs. Bond,
RE: Mandatory Bicycle Helmet Exemption for Bike Share Users
I am writing to you to request that riders of bike share bicycles be exempted from British Columbia’s all-age mandatory bicycle helmet requirement.
No public bike share scheme has been successfully implemented in a jurisdiction with an all-age mandatory bicycle helmet law.
The figures speak for themselves. For example, in Melbourne, Australia, their Bike Share with 600 bikes has seen average usage rates of 300 trips per day, meaning all the bikes sit unused every second day. It is a complete failure compared to Dublin’s DublinBikes bike hire scheme (similar in almost all respects), which has an average daily usage rate of 3,100 trips per day, with only 450 bikes and no mandatory helmet requirement. In the 400 days it has been in operation they have seen 1.3 million trips taken and not one serious accident.
Brisbane’s larger CityCycle scheme has seen annual subscription numbers plateau at just over 2000 and a mere 225 trips per day are being taken as at November, 2010. While there are many small variables, only the mandatory helmet requirement in Australia can explain such enormous differences in usage rates. The mayor of Brisbane has explained that the helmet law is a barrier to the bike share program. He has decided to attach free helmets on bikes on an honesty basis.
A little closer to home, in Montreal, Canada’s first major city bike share, has operated since May 2009. It has 5000 bicycles, and had 3.3 million trips in its first 10 months of operation, or about 11000 trips a day. To date, it has recorded more than 7 million trips, and less than 4 serious injuries involving people on bikeshare. To put that in perspective, 9 pedestrians died in the first 6 months of 2011 in Vancouver alone. In Montreal, even with no mandatory helmet law, there were minimal crashes, extremely few serious injuries, and the program thrived.
A quick look at the number of crashes by people on bikeshare bicycles around the world is enough to prove that bikesharing is extremely safe. In London, 4.5 trips without a serious injury or fatality definitely means something, and in the first 7 months of Washington DC’s bikeshare, the 330,000 yielded only 7 crashes and no serious injuries.
In British Columbia, an exemption under the law (Motor Vehicle Act 261/96) currently exists for passengers of pedicab bicycles that are more than 1 metre in width, and in situations where a helmet would interfere with essential religious practices.
Public Bicycle Hire Schemes must not be allowed to fail. Their failure would be a blow to cycling promotion in this country and province, and a tremendous waste of taxpayer money.
Given the existing commercial exemption for pedicab passengers, can you please explain to me why this exemption cannot also be extended to paying bike share users?
Post Script: If you want to know more about bike sharing, here is a short, fun and educational 4 minute film on Minnesota’s Bike Share. http://www.streetfilms.org/nice-ride-mn-minnesotas-bike-share-expands/
Mandatory Bicycle Helmet Exemption for Bike Share Users- http://wp.me/P1Q0yx-2T
Bicycle Sharing Systems-http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle_sharing_system
Montreal’s Bikeshare Program-http://www.globalatlanta.com/articlevid/25035/1672/
Streetfilms-Minnesota’s bikeshare expands-http://www.streetfilms.org/nice-ride-mn-minnesotas-bike-share-expands/
Bicycle Safety Helmet Exemption Regulation-http://www.bclaws.ca/EPLibraries/bclaws_new/document/ID/freeside/13_261_96
Australian Bike Hire Schemes Fail Because of Helmet Laws – http://www.cycle-helmets.com/bike-hire-schemes.html
CityCycle: The First Months, November 2010 Issue, The Brisbane Institute – http://www.brisinst.org.au/here-and-now/november-2010-issue/2
Bikesharing is safer than riding your own bike-http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/06/16/from-london-to-d-c-bike-sharing-is-safer-than-riding-your-own-bike/
UPDATE: REPLY FROM KATHY CORRIGAN
|4:37 PM (6 hours ago)|
Thanks for your e-mail. I support bike share programs and I would very much like to see Vancouver’s program succeed. I know that Vancouver is working diligently to find creative and workable solutions to ensure its program complies with the current helmet legislation. The success of the program needs to be measured not just by the number of bicycle trips but also in terms of injury prevention.
I am a strong supporter of bicycle helmet legislation because I believe it helps prevent brain injuries and it saves lives. The BC Coroner’s Service has spoken strongly in favour of our helmet legislation and the chief coroner of Ontario has recently called for mandatory helmet laws in that province.
I’ve seen the devastating impact of brain injuries and am of the opinion that the benefits of preventing these injuries far outweigh the arguments against the law. I was very moved by a recent article in the Victoria-Times Colonist on this subject written by Geoff Sing of Cridge Brain Injury Services which very eloquently makes the case in favour of helmets. Here is the link to that article: http://www.timescolonist.com/news/Looser+bike+helmet+laws+step+backward/6853720/story.html .
I hope that everyone who is working for increased cycling in our province supports the City of Vancouver’s efforts to find ways to ensure the success of the bike share program. This success should include support for our mandatory helmet law.
update: Reply from BC Government:
March 13, 2012
Dear Mr. Zheng:
I am responding to your e-mails regarding bicycle helmet laws.
The Province of British Columbia is committed to reducing injuries and fatalities on our road system and continues to target annual injury and fatality reductions. British Columbia’s bicycle helmet law is an important mechanism to help achieve this goal. Data comparisons with other provinces and territories show that bicycle helmet laws increase helmet wearing rates while having no impact on the numbers of people who cycle.
With respect to pedicab exemptions under the Motor Vehicle Act’s Bicycle Safety Helmet Exemption Regulation, there are several considerations that justify the exemptions. For example, bicycles are generally capable of greater speed and have a lack of stability compared to pedicabs, which makes bicycle users potentially more vulnerable to collisions and injuries.
With regard to a helmet exemption for bike share users, this would present significant safety concerns given the benefit of helmet laws on helmet use rates. An exemption would also carry significant enforcement challenges when it comes to distinguishing bike share users from other cyclists.
While there is insufficient evidence to change British Columbia’s bicycle helmet laws at this time, I assure you we will monitor helmet-related research and your suggestions will be given consideration.
Thank you for writing.
Shirley Bond Minister of Justice and Attorney General