New motorcycle helmet law rides into B.C.
After almost 30 years, the B.C. beanie is history. As of June 1, there are new rules governing motorcycle helmets in British Columbia, and so-called novelty helmets—in particular, the B.C. beanie—are out.
Offering about as much protection to riders’ heads as a Tupperware bowl, the low-cost beanies managed to slip through the cracks in the late 1980s when—among other things—the existing helmet laws were challenged in court by various groups, one of which claimed that being obliged to wear a motorcycle helmet infringed on their right to wear religious headgear. Since then, law enforcement has essentially overlooked the beanie, despite common knowledge that it’s not legal and does almost nothing to prevent head trauma in the event of an accident.
The statistics are hard to argue with. According to the B.C. Ministry of Justice, helmet laws—and proper headgear—have been found to reduce accident fatalities by as much as 37 percent. Since motorcyclists are eight times more likely to be killed and some 40 percent more likely to be injured in a vehicle collision than other road users, wearing proper headgear is a bit of a no-brainer. If you ride regularly and wear a beanie or a skid lid, the only reason you haven’t been injured is sheer luck. Even a relatively low-speed collision can have dire consequences if all you have on your head is a one-centimetre-thick piece of fibreglass.
Unbelievably, some riders in B.C. have even found store-bought beanies to be too large, whittling down their “helmets” to skullcaps the size of a yarmulke. Other riders claim that a full-sized helmet with a front visor and proper padding limits their peripheral vision and deadens road noise so they can’t hear what’s going on around them. Interestingly, authorities in Italy also recently banned the use of inadequate helmets on scooters and motorcycles.
So what constitutes a proper helmet? First of all, it must meet industry standards established by the U.S. Department of Transport, which Canada adopted years ago, or those established by the Snell Memorial Foundation. This latter group is a nonprofit research foundation whose purpose is to define what constitutes proper head protection “through scientific and medical research, standards development, helmet testing and public education”. It was founded after the death of amateur racing driver Pete Snell in 1957, and is recognized by virtually every sanctioned motorsport body in North America, including the American Motorcyclist Association, the National Hot Rod Association, NASCAR, the Sports Car Club of America, and others.
Although several high-profile accidents have brought the helmet issue to the fore, law-enforcement personnel in B.C. have chafed over the beanie loophole for years. Says Jamie Graham, former Vancouver chief of police and chair of the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police traffic safety committee, in a news release, “We have seen the harm that inadequate safety equipment and poor choices cause. You have to be responsible for your actions, dress appropriately, pay attention and focus on driving.”
What happens if you defy the law and ride around with a beanie now? The first fine is $138, and if you can’t produce a legal helmet, that’s another $276, thank you.
Some other motorcycle safety regulations were brought forward by the B.C. government at the same time the beanie law was introduced. As of June, passengers riding on the rear pillion have to be able to “place their feet on foot pegs or floorboards”. If you have kids who can’t reach the rear pegs, they can’t ride. Ontario has had this law on the books for the past couple of years, and it makes sense all around.
As well, the size of the font on motorcycle licence plates has been increased slightly—some 0.95 centimetres—to “improve visibility and enforcement for police”.
Perhaps the best news to come out of the B.C. government’s announcements is that it intends to move forward with a graduated licensing program for new riders that may include restrictions on power and bike size. The U.K. has had this kind of system in place for years, and Ontario also has a type of graduated licensing program that restricts where and when you can ride but says nothing about the size or power level of the bike.
Most of these new regulations are for the good, but it’ll be interesting to see if another legal challenge is mounted against the new helmet laws.