Helmet laws for young spark anger in Jersey and Quebec

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The controversial decision by the Jersey States to force under 18s to wear cycle helmets sparked a furious reaction from readers of the Jersey Evening Post when it ran the story last week.

Coincidentally, thousands of miles away across the Atlantic the Quebec Government's aims to make it a law for under 12s to wear cycle helmets also met with a frosty reception.  

First, the Jersey story

"Familes could be spared devastating ordeals by yesterday's States decision to force under-18s to wear cycle helmets, according to Deputy Andrew Green. A move to extend the law to adults was lost by a single vote 25 against, 24 for.

Opposed to the new law is  St Mary Deputy, Daniel Wimberley, a CTC member, who says: "Adults will be next. Anyone who objects to helmet compulsion can reach me via email on d.wimberley@gov.je or by telephone on 485455"

"This is about far more than personal liberty," says Wimberley. "The debate ran on emotion, and ignored the evidence more or less completely, with honourable exceptions. 

"The idea of looking at this controversial law and its likely side effects was sidelined in favour of the quick fix school of politics. No wonder people have lost faith in the States."

State Deputy Andrew Green promoted the helmet legislation  because his son Christopher suffered a serious head injury at the age of nine, when he fell from his bike.

But fellow Deputy Wimberley argues that enforced legislation will fail, for a variety of reasons. "There are fewer and fewer child cyclists in Jersey each year," says Wimberley.  "If this helmet law for children eventually comes in, it will make this disastrous trend even worse. The States have turned their backs on creating a cycling culture and have gone instead for a policy of enforced helmet wearing which is known to fail.

"There will be, sadly, fewer cyclists and therefore more accidents per cyclist. The States have voted for worse public health, more health costs, and greater danger for cyclists. They have ignored all the evidence, and opted instead to prepare a law affecting the lives of thousands of islanders on pure emotion.

"By opting to bring in this law, we are pretending that helmets protect them, when in the vast majority of serious cases they do not. Unless we actually teach children how to ride and focus on making the road environment safer for cyclists, nothing is going to save them."

The Jersey Evening Post was inundated with emails, as 44 out of the 51 people angrily stated how dare Jersey criminalise children with a  law which is seen as unenforceable and, given the  lack of  reliable data supporting the efficacy of helmets, also highly questionable.

The following comment spoke for many. "I am a parent and you have to expect kids do get knocks and bangs but for the most part thanks the stars they are minor. I do feel sorry for any parent that has to go through dealing with a child with a severe head injury but creating legislation to try and prevent a childhood accident is just plain ridiculous.

"Are you going to stop kids climbing up climbing frames or using a slide? I think not and so you shouldn't.The Jersey nanny state lives and God help the rest of us from having a free will to decide as parents how we message to our children when where and why to wear any necessary protection when undertaking any sport or activity."

This, from one of the few comments approving the legislation.

"Well done Deputy Green on bringing to the States such an important piece of legislation. There is huge amounts of reserarch (sic) available to support the wearing of cycle helmets in children. You only have to look at the difference that the compulsory wearing of seat belts and child safety seats for children has made. Now parents will be able to tell their children that it is the law and they have to wear a helmet, as I'm sure we have all heard the excuses, of ‘I don't like them, I will look silly if I'm the only one, they are uncomfortable' etc etc. Wearing cycle helmets can make the difference between surviving an accident without a head injury or being permanently disabled."

One driver who "can't abide cyclists on public roads"  was looking forward, in anticipation, to encountering fewer cyclists!

Quebec's Raod Safety change

Meanwhile, Quebec's plans to change the Road Safety Code to make young cyclists wear helmets was greeted with scorn by Michelle Lalonde, Green Life Columnist for the Montreal Gazette.

Lalonde's tongue-in-check rant asks why just cyclists in helmets, why not everyone?

"In fact, pedestrians should wear helmets, too, since they routinely get hit by cars or fall on icy sidewalks. Actually, maybe we should outlaw cycling and walking altogether. With 100s of pedestrians and cyclists injured and dozens killed each year in Montreal, these activities are obviously just too dangerous.

"And hang on a second. If drivers and their passengers wore helmets, they would undoubtedly lower their risk of head and brain injuries during collisions. Let's just make everybody wear helmets all the time.

"In fact,to minimise risk, we should all just buy SUVs. Or better still, Hummers. No....wait...army tanks! That's it. We should all drive our kids to school in armoured personnel carriers. They will require wider roads, but that's fine because we won't need sidewalks...."

She adds that in Montreal close on 900 cyclists aged from five to 11, and about the same number of young pedestrians, are injured each year by motor vehicles.

"We  have a big problem, and we need much more than a helmet law to solve it."

She points out that the Quebec government is also promoting urban highway developments which will attract tens of thousands of more vehicles to the streets, rendering the helmet legislation purely a  'Band-Aid' solution.

"I make my kids wear helmets when they ride their bikes. Far more important, I teach my kids how to ride defensively...This is the responsibility of parents, and we, not politicians or cops, are best placed to do it."

The CTC says a recent UK government report on cycle helmets agrees there is no specific evidence to support their effectiveness.

Related links

Jersey votes to make helmets compulsory for under-18 cyclists

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Keith Bingham joined the Cycling Weekly team in the summer of 1971, and retired in 2011. During his time, he covered numerous Tours de France, Milk Races and everything in-between. He was well known for his long-running 'Bikewatch' column, and played a pivotal role in fighting for the future of once at-threat cycling venues such as Hog Hill and Herne Hill Velodrome.