Bike helmet law crusade wins doctor's support

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      A cycling physician says he “absolutely” supports a Vancouver resident’s charter challenge of the provincial law requiring cyclists to wear helmets.

      “I think that the helmet law is bad, not only in terms of cycling but also from a public-health perspective. From a safety perspective, it’s very misguided legislation,” Tom Demarco told the Georgia Straight by phone from his Whistler office. “It’s doing far more harm than good.”

      In August 2009, Vancouver police issued Ron van der Eerden a $29 ticket, under Section 184 of the provincial Motor Vehicle Act, for not wearing a helmet. Van der Eerden decided he would fight the ticket. “And it turns out that the only avenue to fight it—if you admit that you weren’t wearing one [a helmet]—is to fight it as a charter challenge,” van der Eerden told the Straight by phone. “Because, basically, that is my reasoning: that the law is unjust and ineffective and actually has quite the opposite effect of what it is intending to do. You know, the intention is to make things safer for cyclists, and I think it actually does the opposite.”

      Van der Eerden said he has a binder full of material just dealing with head injuries. He cited a 2006 analysis put out by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, called Head Injuries in Canada: A Decade of Change (1994–1995 to 2003–2004).

      According to this report, in the 2003-04 fiscal year, cycling incidents led to 4,605 hospitalizations in the country. Of these hospitalizations, 815, or 18 percent, involved head injuries. The average age of cyclists sustaining head injuries requiring hospitalization was 25 years. By comparison, head injuries sustained in motor-vehicle incidents accounted for 5,970 hospital admissions that same year.

      In his notice of application filed with B.C.’s provincial traffic court on March 15, van der Eerden is seeking such relief from the enforcement powers of the provincial law “as the court considers appropriate and just in the circumstances” and that is guaranteed under Section 24 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

      Elsewhere in his legal application, van der Eerden claims that sections 1, 7, and 15 of the charter are being violated. On August 12, the court will hear his arguments. Van der Eerden is representing himself in the case.

      “Bicycle helmet legislation is discriminatory as it applies, with demonstrable justification, only to individuals who ride bicycles without being equally applied to individuals who drive automobiles or walk,” van der Eerden wrote in the court documents.

      Arno Schortinghuis, a director and past president of the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition, told the Straight by phone that he, like Demarco, wears a helmet but disagrees with the law. He argues it suppresses the numbers of riders and could hinder the success of the city bike-sharing program slated to arrive in Vancouver next year.

      According to David Hay, a downtown Vancouver lawyer who is consulted by cycling groups, there is an “extremely limited” chance of the charter challenge succeeding. “I just don’t think there’s any judicial appetite for the abolition of the helmet law,” Hay told the Straight by phone.

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      68 Comments

      Standing Water

      Jul 7, 2011 at 6:53am

      “I think that the helmet law is bad, not only in terms of cycling but also from a public-health perspective. From a safety perspective, it’s very misguided legislation,” Tom Demarco told the Georgia Straight by phone from his Whistler office. “It’s doing far more harm than good.”

      It would have been nice if you had put in something substantive that this fellow said. The helmet law is a good stop-gap until bicycle riders and their vehicles can be licensed. Cyclists must be subject to the civil authority.

      The disputant's applicant is frivolous and borders on mental retardation---he might as well argue that it is unfair for a driver to carry a driver license because a pedestrian isn't compelled to carry a pedestrian license. He might as well argue that it is unjust to require passengers in cars to wear seat-belts because cyclists are not compelled to wear seat-belts, &c &c.

      “Bicycle helmet legislation is discriminatory as it applies, with demonstrable justification, only to individuals who ride bicycles without being equally applied to individuals who drive automobiles or walk,”

      Is this a Straight transcription error, or is this cyclist pumping out the lulz by arguing in his filing that it is "with demonstrable justification"? I guess this is par for the course for a cyclist, if he wrote that...

      "He argues it suppresses the numbers of riders and could hinder the success of the city bike-sharing program slated to arrive in Vancouver next year."

      Good. Bikes are no better than cars. They sustain metalworkers whose general skills also make weapons and munitions, and they are disrespectful of the rules of the road. Just the other day, I was walking across the Burrard Bridge, and some knownothing cyclist (no helmet!) was going through opposing pedestrian traffic _right beside the reserved lane for cyclists_. I told him to get into the correct lane, and he just waved at me, smiling, nothing going on upstairs, enjoying his abuse of the sidewalk. Disgusting animal.

      the Spokesman

      Jul 7, 2011 at 8:22am

      I think that perhaps the greatest impediment to Van der Eerden's challenge is his lack of legal representation.

      David Hay himself has said a challenge to this law has legal basis

      (http://momentumplanet.com/articles/keep-a-lid-on-it-mandatory-helmet-leg...)

      but what is preventing such a challenge is the emotional impressions most people have about how dangerous cycling is, and how protective a helmet can be.

      It seems to me, a challenge in the courts would be a good venue to place these impressions to rest by examining verifiable evidence of our laws effects.

      Good for Ron for forcing the question, shame on the legal community for not representing the best interests of the community at large.

      June

      Jul 7, 2011 at 8:29am

      Why would we compare anything other than bike related head injuries with and without helmets? This is not even mentioned but that is the only relevant statistic. Cars will always win at being the most dangerous-does this mean we should not have fall protection classes in construction because workers are way more likely to die on the way to work? This is flawed logic.

      the Spokesman

      Jul 7, 2011 at 9:50am

      June, ICBC keeps detailed records of injuries to cyclists involved in accidents and you can see from this page that provides the information

      http://cyclehelmets.org/1103.html

      that head injuries to cyclists did not decrease after cyclists were mandated to wear helmets.

      You can also see that the number of collisions between cars and bicycles took a dramatic drop after legislation was implemented, so unless you think that simply wearing a helmets prevents collisions, you'd have to conclude that fewer people cycled after the law was enforced.

      One must also not forget the purpose of our legislation which was repeatedly stated by legislators. It was to reduce the amount of deaths and serious injuries to cyclists in BC. One just has to look at the post law rise in cycling deaths to see, the law has had no effect on reducing deaths to cyclists in BC. In fact helmeted cyclists die at the same rate as non-helmeted cyclists because even when the cause of death is listed as a result of a head injury, there are other injuries present that lead to death as well. When the cause is solely due to head injury, it is almost always from an impact with a severity that is far beyond a helmets ability to provide protection.

      Helmet do provide protection, but they only provide it in simple falls. The type of falls that pedestrians have and it has never been shown that cyclists suffer more these injuries than pedestrians do. This is part of the argument of discrimination. Motorists, and pedestrians suffer far more head injuries than cyclists do, yet it's cyclists that are subject to the law even if pedestrians and motorists can benefit from helmet use as well.

      June

      Jul 7, 2011 at 10:09am

      Spokesman, the statistics that I am talking about are: bike related head injuries where helmeted heads are compared with non-helmeted heads-as a bike commuter I am not interested in comparisons with other forms of transportation, only information about my safety, nor about law impact. It is an easy question: if I fall on my head while biking, will a helmet decrease my chances of brain damage? No one is even talking about that question, which demonstrates bias and a lack of intellectual rigour.

      The data sets of two years is no where close to providing substantive patterns. I would be interested in seeing similar studies on seat belt use, which at the time of law implementation was expected to take a generation to see real results-you are expecting everything to magically change overnight?

      This discussion is a red herring that will only serve to keep cyclists arguing-we should be fighting together for better road safety for everyone.

      Xian Qi

      Jul 7, 2011 at 11:07am

      As I was reading this article, I was looking forward to being informed about how the helmet law is "ineffective and actually has quite the opposite effect of what it is intending to do." But nowhere do I read any evidence or reasoning behind this claim. All I read is "helmet law is bad" but I don't get the how and why. Yeah, maybe it discourages others from cycling -- but here we have a doctor implying that wearing helmets is unsafe. Please, please, please ... back up this kind of statement with solid reasoning and facts!

      Until then, I keep wearing my helmet (just as I will keep wearing my seatbelt, and look both ways before I cross the road).

      Mark Fornataro

      Jul 7, 2011 at 11:15am

      Like motorcycling, bicycling is dangerous as hell. Several years ago when I was knocked out in a motorcycle accident and woke up in the Richmond General Hospital emergency ward, I was grateful I had been wearing a helmet. It saved my life. For those without helmets who get in to accidents and become vegetables, should the rest of society use its hard -earned tax dollars to support you for the rest of your life because you couldn't be bothered to strap on a helmet? When giving advice, Dr Demarco should remember from the Hippocratic oath: first do no harm.

      Anon

      Jul 7, 2011 at 11:19am

      Pretty soon, Doctors will be asking the public to wear helmets while walking around ni public just incase you fall down and bump your head.....

      At what point do we stop telling people what to do with their lives??

      the Spokesman

      Jul 7, 2011 at 11:23am

      I suppose no one is talking about whether or not a bicycle helmet prevents injuries from a fall because that's not the question raised by the article.

      The question raised is, does BCs helmet law violate the Canadian Charter of Rights? Your question seems to be the red herring.

      Our law was passed on the basis of saving lives. Has this happened? Is the law valid if it has not?