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JOHN LORINC: knocking heads

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The Toronto Cyclists Union did itself no favours yesterday when they tried to persuade the members of council’s public works and infrastructure committee to reject Michael Walker’s motion to make bike helmets mandatory (it came twinned with a proposal to require bike licensing).

Walker never misses an opportunity to stir the pot, and these motions — both were referred to staff — are no exception. I don’t see him as a champion for road safety, nor do many members of the TCU, and I think therein lies the problem.

The licensing idea won’t fly, nor should it.

But after monitoring the debate, I found myself wondering how a mandatory helmet motion would play itself out if the proponent came from council’s Left — figures like Gord Perks or Adam Giambrone. Quite differently, I expect. Or maybe not.

For cycling advocates, the political mischief in Walker’s proposal is that it calls them out on the subject of safety. If they want bike lanes to be safer for cyclists, surely they’d be in favour of a rule designed to enhance personal safety….

It’s impossible to deny that bike helmets do offer an extra and important level of protection for cyclists, and to claim otherwise is nonsensical. Nor do helmets only provide protection during collisions with cars, as was suggested. Earlier this year, a friend who rides to work downtown wiped out on a slick streetcar track and landed on his head. He said he would have been in deep trouble without that helmet.

Who doesn’t know a story like that one?

I’d say there’s a legitimate public policy case in favour of mandatory bike helmets, notwithstanding Walker’s presence in this debate. There are obvious precedents that no longer generate controversy: seat belts laws, as well as mandatory helmets for those operating motorcycles, scooters, and mopeds. These aren’t just about big brother imposing its will, and it would foolish to think otherwise. Society incurs a real cost associated with preventable injuries — health care outlays, lost productivity, and so on.

As for the claim made by some cycling advocates that helmets represent a financial barrier to entry, I don’t buy it. In fact, such pretext arguments do a disservice to the interests of Toronto cyclists. If you can afford to spend hundreds of dollars on a bike, a $40 or $50 helmet won’t break the bank.

The cycling community knows it’s got the ear of council — for now. But that status could change after next year’s municipal election, so it wouldn’t do the TCU any harm to offer up a conciliatory gesture to demonstrate a willingness to play ball.

Requiring helmets for kids under 18 isn’t enough. Here’s an alternative approach: a three-year phase-in period with no fines or enforcement, as well as a full-throated public education campaign financed by the city, but developed in consultation with cycling groups. The story line will play well with the broader riding public — cyclists urging other cyclists to play it safe, and it could bolster the political case for bike lanes under a new and potentially less bike-friendly council.

Despite its dodgy lineage, the mandatory helmet issue represents an unusual opportunity for the TCU to broaden its base and mature as an advocacy group that does more than merely preach to the choir. They’d be wise to not to less it pass.

photo by Patrick Crowley



  1. Your post is reasonable, but I can’t agree with mandatory helmets.

    What will most improve safety for cyclists is getting more cyclists on the road, so drivers and cyclists alike learn how to conduct themselves safely.

    The fact is that mandatory helmet laws will only discourage cycling, and in that way will do nothing to improve safety on the broader scale — it would do the opposite.

    With respect to health care outlays and lost productivity due to cycling accidents, I suspect these costs are far too small to figure as anything more than marginal concerns in the debate. Plus, the savings created by those of us who choose to cycle rather than drive, and who stay healthier in doing so, would I’m sure cover the costs of the odd one among us who suffers an expensive injury.

  2. I wear my helmet, always. I think anyone who doesn’t is witless enough that perhaps it doesn’t matter if they damage the contents a helmet is made to protect. However, helmet laws are a red herring, and you must know it.

    In countries where riding is safer (Denmark, Netherlands, and Japan) helmet wearing is the exception. Would these cyclists be safer with a helmet? Certainly. Would I rather cycle with a helmet in Toronto, or without one in Denmark? Now what do you think?

    Let me add that Japan doesn’t have many bike lanes, and even Denmark and the Netherlands do not have them everywhere: they have a culture of aware and unselfish drivers. That’s what Toronto (Ontario) lacks, We’ll get that not from helmets on heads of cyclists, but heavy enforcement of the traffic code on ALL road users.

  3. “If you can afford to spend hundreds of dollars on a bike, a $40 or $50 helmet won’t break the bank.”

    But what if you can only afford to spend $50 on a bike? Many people ride bikes that cost well under $100, and can’t afford a penny more.

    I agree that people should wear helmets, but implying that all cyclists are able to spend hundreds of dollars on a bike is a little rude.

  4. The question comes down to: how much does the public want to encourage biking?

    Helmet use will discourage cycling, by causes petty (helmet hair for professionals, fashonistas), legitimate (how to take an out of town or unprepared friend cycling), and social-justice (very poor people depend on bicycles to make a living, this would further criminialize them).

    I just made up these reasons, but they’re plausible. Michael Bluejay does a better job of putting helmet use in perspective here:

    In short: Most people already wear helmets, because they’re a good idea. There’s not that many cyclist injuries relative to other hazards (e.g. drowning). Cyclist fatalities have more to do with poor riding skills and poor infrastructure than helmets. Therefore there’s little point to making helmets mandatory.

  5. Copy my comments from another thread:

    why don’t we require driver wear a helmet? I bet that would save a few lives, like when the head bang on wind shield. Or why don’t we require pedestrian wear helmet? The lady who died in the bike accident not that long ago would probably have been saved by it. This north American obsession with absolute safety is doing more damage than good.

    It is a barrier to cycling, mostly not for the money it costs, but for inconvenience it creates. As a bike commuter I do wear helmet most of the time, but there are times when I forget, and there are short hurl trips when I judge it is unnecessary. For me the essence of cycling is its convenience and spontaneity, a helmet requirement will bite a big chunk out of that. Also think about the effect on the possible public bike service coming to Toronto, how awkward it will become with this mandatory helmet rule.

    In the end, I suppose even if this pass at the city it won’t stand a court challenge. So just another waste of time and money.

  6. Helmets would be far more effective if we mandated them for driver and pedestrians, who make up about 50% of head injuries, or even basketball players (who have similar statistics for head injuries as cyclists in the US, not sure about Canada). Perhaps as a National Post columnist seriously suggested, we should make cyclists wear full motorcycle safety equipment and replace their spandex with kevlar?

    There’s all sort of things we could do to ‘improve safety’ the question is where do we draw the line between convenience and safety? The majority of countries around the world have chosen not require helmets for cyclists (or drivers…). In fact, places like parts of Australia, Canada and the States that do require helmets for cyclists are usually less safe and cycling is less popular than countries where even children don’t wear helmets.

    Making cyclists wear helmets doesn’t address the root of cycling-car collisions. It decreases the amount of people cycling. It makes cycling less convenient and more of a sport than a mode of transportation. Many studies have found that implementing these laws has a minimal effect on reducing serious collisions or injuries. A helmet is not the equivelant of a seatbelt. Studies have also found that wearing a helmet means cars will drive closer to you. I know you are an urban thinker, so I invite you to read this short article by Vancouver’s chief planner about other approaches to planning a city for cycling

    Our planned bike network is mostly painted lines and ‘signed routes’… that’s not going to improve safety on any higher speed or high traffic routes, and it’s not really going to encourage anyone but the brave to be out on Toronto streets. Many people are afraid to even let their child bike to school, let alone go with them on a street like Richmond or Spadina. Our big city cousins Vancouver and Montreal have begun implementing the segregated lanes and cycle tracks that have done so much to encourage cycling and improve cycling safety in Northern Europe and places like New York City. Toronto is still arguing about the war on cars, helmets, and licensing cyclists. We already have a relatively poor bike network and we are falling behind even further. We need a total rethink of how we plan and design cycling infrastructure, including some of the stupid laws out there (e.g. making cyclists stop and dismount)

    You’ll also notice that things like reducing speed limits in the city, which would actually be quite effective for cycling and pedestrian safety, are rallied against by these same pro-licensing councillors as part of the ‘war on cars.’ Clearly in that case the line for convenience looks like it will be drawn to favour the drivers. I hope in this case we will favour active transportation and not create another discouragement for cycling in the city.

  7. In my experience, cycling advocates who invoke a “barrier to entry” regarding mandatory helmets refer to the fact that people generally don’t like wearing helmets, not to the (IMHO nominal) cost of helmets. I guess the former line of reasoning is just too lame (though true) to use before a committee.

  8. Hi John,
    Unfortunately you have totally misquoted me from yesterday, not unlike several of the councillors who put words in my mouth during the very gruelling and extended question period.

    I did say that mandating helmet use was a barrier to entry because it reinforces the idea that cycling is unsafe, and that it is an easy step for government to take so that they can be seen to care about, and take action on the issue of cyclists safety.

    As I also mentioned yesterday, i think the helmet and licensing issues are a distraction from the real solutions to creating safer conditions for cyclists – namely, the actual implementation of bike lanes, and public education campaigns for all road users about how to safely, and courteously share our public roadways. The other thing that would be make a tangible, long term difference to road sharing and respect is the updating of the Ontario Driver’s Handbook which currently has little to no information about cyclists, their habits, their rights/responsibilities on the road, or the myriad road marking and signage that pertain to them.

  9. Well, John, that’s a lot of disagreement in a short time. Now let’s see your ideas to put appropriate onus on the drivers of the most dangerous vehicles on the road. You know, the motorized ones which are the leading cause of children’s deaths!

  10. Yvonne, education of drivers only comes through the pocket book: you should be pushing for heavy enforcement, and an enforcement in proportion to the danger caused by the road user (i.e. 1% on cyclists, and 99% on drivers, as drivers cause 99 times as many fatalities). The rest is wind, and why I have not joined the union.

  11. jamesmallon:

    Pick up a copy of the new issue of Spacing and you’ll see John’s column that discusses all the things Toronto can do to minimize the impact of the vehicle.

  12. I’m all for people making their own decisions, but no one chooses to be sideswiped by a taxi or go over a car door, so I’d not be opposed to manditory helmets. I choose not to cycle without one.

    But this bit of the article made me shake my head:

    “Here’s an alternative approach: a three-year phase-in period with no fines or enforcement, as well as a full-throated public education campaign financed by the city…”

    Either make it a law an enforce it, or don’t make it a law. If I didn’t want to wear a helmet and then this three year “adjustment period” was granted, when do you think I’m going to put on that helmet? Yep: day 1,096.

    While I don’t believe too many laws need to be passed, for the safety of cyclists and pedestrians and drivers, I think a law banning use of headphones while cycling should be considered.

  13. I am personally responsible for my safety out there cycling, and if I choose to wear or not wear a helmet, do you think it will bloody matter when a big damn bus doesn’t check its blind spot?

    ‘Bike lanes’ bike safety and ‘helmet laws’ bike safety are separate issues, and completely ironic in contrast – cyclists are upset because NO ONE is taking responsibility for their safety but themselves. Toronto is once again shirking its duty to provide cyclists with a safe right of passage and ensuring that we’re all equal in terms of infrastructure. Instead, it wants to focus on restriction and criminalization.

    How’s this for an idea, everyone on the city council has to bike, ONLY bike, and/or use public transit for ONE MONTH. No cars. Oh, and they can wear helmets, be our guests! How many of them would be in the hospital in mere days because of culpable motorists and lack of safe biking coniditons? Let’s see whether they’d figure it out then.

  14. james> You’re seeing a lot of disagreement from, as John points out, the choir. And for cycling to become a more widely accepted thing, it needs to extend beyond that choir (that is, a lot of Spacing’s readership). As for the rest of your comment — this isn’t about drivers. Or other dangerous things. It’s about helmets. But you’re doing what so many non-helmet folks do, they bring in other “more dangerous” things that we should be worried about or that the helmet issue is “a distraction from something else.” Helmets are common sense. That’s it. Cars or lack of bikelanes or other distracting-issues-of-the-day may be a bigger risk but none of that erodes the fact that helmets prevent many injuries and wearing one is a simple way of negating a certain amount of risk. To argue about the other stuff as opposition throws, as the cliche goes, the baby out with the bathwater.

    I’m increasingly incredibly perplexed and upset at the lack of helmet support from cycling enthusiasts. I cycle all over this city and can’t relate to any of the reasons why there is no consensus on helmets. (Barrier to entry because of cost? Why don’t we lower the cost of a TTC ride by getting rid of a few of the easier safety mechanisms on the subways — would we do that? Poor folk deserve to be as safe as anybody else — start a helmet fund if this is such an issue, I’d be the first to donate).

    I’m also increasingly certain the core of this is what Greg Smith mentioned above: cyclists don’t like wearing helmets and (I think) this resistance is motivated by an ideologically libertarian view of the right to cycle the city as they wish. The risk is, as John gets at in this piece, is that to be libertarian about the bike helmet issue has major consequences as its fundamentally in opposition to many of other aims of the bike community like separate lanes, more infrastructure and the like.

    As a cyclist, I’m very worried that this libertarian ideological view on the helmet issue is going to result in less infrastructure for me. The two go together, there is no way around that. This is simple common sense, but also the way things work (politically or in broader public relations with the general public who will, hopefully, turn to cycling). You may not like it, but that’s the way it works.

    No helmet, no bike lane.

  15. Mandatory bike helmets make as much sense as mandatory seatbelt use. That is, a lot of sense.

    If it means that slightly fewer people can afford to ride a bike, that’s fine. Making seatbelts mandatory increased the cost of cars, and forcing people to wear them was seen as a problem by some back then as well. Frankly, too bad. I’m sure the City can implement another program subsidy to offset some of the cost of a helmet if necessary.

    I don’t buy into the idea that making people safer is a barrier to entry because of perception. The same argument could be made about bike lanes (if you have to separate them, it must not be safe!), and it would be just as ridiculous then. Helments AND bike lanes for all. And if they make the road safer for the allegedly fewer cyclists, so be it.

  16. The mandatory helmet issues resurfaces every 10 years or so. I do think cyclists are wise to wear them under most circumstances, but I also believe there’s a tendency to view them as the big solution when in fact mandatory use of helmets would neither change the behaviour of cyclists and motorists nor fix infrastructure, which I believe are the bigger issues if cycling safety is your goal.

    The last time Toronto cycling types looked for research on the topic, a study (from Australia perhaps) showed that helmet laws decrease cycling participation.

    Also, there’s a general rule in the Occupational Health and Safety field that “the body is the last line of defense”, meaning that the powers that be should try to repair every other dangerous circumstance, and that the helmet, steel-toed boot, harness or glove should only come into play when all else fails.

    Finally, although kids’ helmets do tend to decrease serious injury and death, having sat on a coroner’s committee that studied a decade of cycling deaths in Toronto, it seems sadly clear to me that adults who actually die of cycling related injuries are usually hurt so badly that a helmet wouldn’t have made a difference.

    I own a helmet and wear it most of the time, but I’d hate to think that was my only defense on the roads.

  17. Another argument against mandatory helmet rule is how easy this can be enforced. Unlike seat-belt, any cop on the street can spot a cyclist without helmet hundreds of meters away. So guess what, cops will likely be busy issuing tickets to these easy targets, rather than paying attention to bahaviours that really make our street dangerous.

  18. This is all in the name of politicking and passing a law requiring all cyclists to wear helmets will do nothing to further development of cycling infrastructure.

    Please, provide some proof and I’ll buy in to the idea that we (as cyclists) have to give in order to get.

    There are probably thousands of reasons why Toronto’s Bike Plan is laughably behind schedule. But, because there isn’t a law requiring helmet use, is certainly not one of them.

  19. I agree with Yvonne, the question is a political one.

    People should wear helmets – clearly. Should a bylaw be created to enforce this? Possibly, with a personal lean toward “no”. But this is not the point.

    The point is that with cyclist safety in the news currently due to the tragic events involving Shepard/Bryant, there was an opportunity to push cyclist rights at City Hall. Michael Walker (from the generally car-friendly area of St. Pauls East) comes out with a proposal to mandate bike helmets. Again, Yvonne is right, this is a distraction. If successful, it will set other more pressing cyclist issues (relationship between cars and bikes, bike lanes, driver education, etc.) on the back burners. Council will have taken action to address bike safety – the issue on a lot of people’s minds right now – and this will carry them through to the next election.

    I’m not sure TCU should be opposed to bike helmet law, but I am sure TCU should be making a stink about how City Hall is missing the mark on this one. By a long shot.

  20. It’s not true that wearing a helmet is always safer. I can atest to feeling more confident with a hemlet on, but that doesn’t mean I’m driving any safer. In fact I may take more risks because I feel supposedly safer and drivers may do the same. Check this story from ABC’s 20/20 from a few years back that shows the unintended consequences of playing it safe –

  21. Wow, 20+ comment in 90 minutes. Is that a record?

  22. Yu wrote:

    “Another argument against mandatory helmet rule is how easy this can be enforced. Unlike seat-belt, any cop on the street can spot a cyclist without helmet hundreds of meters away. So guess what, cops will likely be busy issuing tickets to these easy targets, rather than paying attention to bahaviours that really make our street dangerous.”

    Like they now issue tickets to cyclists who run reds, make illegal left turns, etc, no lights, etc.? In my experience cops can’t be bothered ticketing cyclists for anything, even when it’s blatant and right in front of them. Do you really think they’re gonna start issue tickets to helmetless cyclists? Maybe TO needs a small force of officers, like traffic officers, to focus on bike infractions. To say this an argument against a helmet law is ridiculous.

  23. Does the City even have the power to enforce a mandatory helmet law? Wouldn’t that be under provincial jurisdiction, making City Council’s noise just grandstanding? (btw – i wear a helmet & I’m not even against the proposed rule, just against the distraction factor of City Council).

  24. Oh boy, here we go again. Toronto’s leaders stick their head in the sand and ignore the world around them, wasting time dreaming up harebrained solutions to problems already solved elsewhere. This kind of blinders-on thinking is what led to such genius programs as the food cart debacle.

    Let me lay this out for Walker & Co: Toronto is not a world leader in cycling. Other cities are. Mandatory helmet laws and licensing requirements do not exist in those “successful” bike-use cities***, unless you consider Oklahoma City (bicycle use: zero) some kind of role model. Therefore, they should not be up for discussion in Toronto no matter what the specifics. Period.

    What SHOULD be up for discussion by city council are elements that enable increased bike use in other cities and when/how those elements should be applied to Toronto.

    i.e. protected bike lanes, painted full color bike lanes, missing link bike lanes, improved signage, sharrows, bike lockers, bike stations, bike parking minimums — these are the things that should be debated by council.

    Rather than whipping everyone into a frenzy making stuff up, Toronto should learn from its peers and implement what has been tried and tested to work.

    (***Yes, I am aware that Vancouver recently passed a helmet law, but this is very recent and probably influenced by Seattle, the only major US city to require helmets. It is still the exception and not a trend.)

  25. You know, if this is a sticking point in the infrastructure debate, which it seems to be, why not just pass the mandatory helmet law so we can cut through the fat to the real issues? And if we are worried about the poor, which is really the only argument that holds much water, we can use some of the money saved on treating head injuries, buy some cheap but effective helmets in bulk, and give them away for free for low-income cyclists.

    It seems to me that if we just got rid of helmets as an issue, we can actually focus on infrastructure without it getting in the way.

  26. All this talk about ‘common sense’ makes me suspicious. It’s also ‘common sense’ that if I work hard (which I do), I’ll be rich (which I’m not!). I’m also doing double-takes on the argument ‘helmets should be mandatory to save us health-care money.’ Makes me wonder, why stop at helmets? Why not make cyclists wear orange safety vests? Have everyone who’s out in public wrapped in foam?

    Yeah, everyone’s got a story to tell about someone they know who knows someone they know who wiped out on their bike and the helmet ‘saved their life.’ This is the same logic I always read about how someone can always recount a story about some ‘crazy cyclist’… As has been brought up in Spacing comments, it’s the same logic as ‘I saw an Asian person driving badly, therefore they’re all bad drivers.’

    I’m increasingly finding that the issue of cyclists in Toronto has very little to do with facts, but rather emotion and affect. Last week, police were ticketing cyclists at their favourite spot, Beverley and Baldwin for running the stop sign. Really? How many accidents have occurred there from cyclists not coming to a complete stop?

    Finally, I completely agree with Yvonne’s point that this whole ‘mandatory bike helmet law’ is just a distraction from improving cycling infrastructure, the latter providing safety and convenience on so many different levels.

  27. ha! Josh Hind and Shawn Micallef agree!

  28. Rob,

    do you really think Walker et al. will say now that we have them all wear helmet and saved a bunch from treating head injury, we can use the money for some more bike lane, even separated ones? The more likely logic seems to be, “now that they all wear helmets, they are safe enough, why bother with bike lanes”.

  29. Whoops.. I meant orange safety VESTS.

    Bike lights, bells and reflectors are mandatory safety equipment, yet there is no controversy here is there? Anyone arguing that these features are bad for Toronto cycling?

  30. must say that i care about existing cyclists much more than “barriers to entry.” seems to me that hundreds, possibly thousands, of people already cycle on toronto’s streets every day and *we*, as a group, are a good enough reason for good cycling infrastructure.

    i mean, the main reason why bloor/danforth needs bike lanes is because that the street is already heavily used by bicycles, not because more people might cycle there if bike lanes existed.

  31. Yu…

    There are plenty of cops. Enough to police cars and bike with plenty leftover to harass teenagers and the homeless. If there’s one thing Toronto has in abundance, it’s cops.

  32. Sean,

    they are not controversial, because those requirements are pretty much ignored by police. If the city decides that we are going to have a mandatory helmet rule, but police won’t enforce it, then OK. But why bother?

  33. “Bike lights, bells and reflectors are mandatory safety equipment, yet there is no controversy here is there?”

    Again, I’d rather not be discussing any of this since it is not precedent in successful bike cities, but if one must bring up the above argument, it is simple to rebut:

    There is no controversy, and never will be, with any regulation that deals with a modification to the vehicle rather than the user. Seat belts and headlights and ABS brakes all add to the cost and complexity of a car, but they come with the car. The hidden price becomes marginal or is forgotten, and the use of them is simple because they are already there.

    Same with bikes. If you have a sudden impulse to take your bike out of the garage and ride it to work one day, the bike already has the reflector, bell, etc. on it. Helmets are personal items that cannot be locked to a bike rack or stowed with the vehicle. They are individually sized and must be located, put on, carted around. That’s why you can never realistically mandate helmets for cars, boats or bikes.

    The closest parallel to a helmet law is the law for life jackets in boating. but even there the law only works because life jackets must simply be present in the boat (and are therefore essentially the same as a fixed piece of equipment) rather than actually worn. On most boats the owners buy a bunch of life jackets (which are fairly universal in size), toss them under the seat, and then forget about them. There is no way to mandate wearing helmets without seriously impacting bike use patterns because you have to wear a helmet and there is no way to store it on the bike (cable lock?) between uses.

    Which is why successful bike cities do not have helmet laws, which is why we should not even be talking about them. Let’s get back to adding bike infrastructure and convince council to forget this silliness…

  34. Sean… what?!

    “As a cyclist, I’m very worried that this libertarian ideological view on the helmet issue is going to result in less infrastructure for me.”
    – Uh, no. It’s the fact that the driving public thinks we’re a fringe, and don’t care if the streets are safe for their children either, which they aren’t because of the way cars are driven, because of poor traffic enforcement, which helmets are not going to fix.

    “The two go together, there is no way around that. This is simple common sense, but also the way things work (politically or in broader public relations with the general public who will, hopefully, turn to cycling).”
    – Again, no. I always wear a helmet, and the drivers around me are still selfish and witless.

    “No helmet, no bike lane.”
    Finally, no. No bike lane, because Toronto society doesn’t give a $#!+ about people who haven’t drunk the commute-around-the-city-by-car kool-aid, or about anyone of a ‘lower class’. Montreal, Copenhagen, Tokyo, etc. simply have a better civil-society than we do in Toronto. Toronto is the petit-bourgeois place I have lived or visited.

    You support the helmet law and see what good it does you. I’m moving.

  35. Your argument is even more easily countered, however, by motorcycle, scooter and e-bike laws that require helmet use. By your logic, none of these devices should require the use of a helmet because they do not come with the vehicle.

    You’re incorrect that a helmet can’t be locked to a bike rack or the bike… I see it done almost every day.

  36. james> With respect, you are missing the point. This isn’t about a mandatory law (I don’t care either way — and I don’t care why Walker et al proposed it and I don’t care if it passes or doesn’t pass) but it’s all about not appearing as a fringe group. For that to happen, internal politics in the “bike community” (if there is such a thing) need to get in order and not be in opposition, as I suggest.

  37. Shawn: I wear a bicycle helmet for every ride. I have done so for years. I wouldn’t ride without one. I urge cyclists to wear helmets at all times; I know what a head injury can do to your life. A by-law requiring bicycle helmets would have no real effect on me, but I object to the tenor of this debate. The idea that cyclists have to “give” something to appease the more conservative side of city council may make for good tactics, but only if we don’t give ground on principle. Unfortunately, as often happens when you try to placate an opponent, the current tenor of the discussion looks like it will lead to unacceptable surrenders of principle.

    Cyclists need not apologize for anything. We have a right to use the road under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. I claim that right has its grounding in the right to personal mobility, a right going back to Magna Carta. Cycling does count as an exercise of personal freedom, and we ought not to tolerate any intrusions on it.

    As for infrastructure: the city has an interest in ensuring the free movement of traffic, and an absolute obligation to protect cyclists against violence and intimidation by motorists. If councillors can fulfil these obligations by creating cycling lanes and defining bicycle routes, they should do so. If other means of fulfilling these obligations exist, then councillors may choose to use them instead. I object, strongly, to the notion that any councillor can neglect their obligation to protect citizens in the exercise of our rights unless we give them something they want.

  38. Here’s why I am against mandatory bike helments. Say, I bike down to Little Italy or Yonge/Bloor or wherever and leave my bike there for three or four days. Usually, I would pick it up on my way back home from work.

    However, if they make helmets mandatory, I will no longer be able to pick my bike up casually. I will have to leave my helmet attached to my bike, hope no one steals the helmet for three days — people love stealing bike lights for unfathomable reason, so conceivably they’d want to steal a helmet too — and then put it on my head wet and rotting from rain.

    Or, I would have to take it with me, lug the awkward thing around in my backpack which is already too full, and either carry it for three days or remember to take it with me in the morning when I am heading to work. It’s a huge piece of theatre.

  39. Here is the difference between seatbelt laws and helmet laws: if someone really hates wearing a seatbelt, they are unlikely to stop driving just because the law says they have to wear it. (Even supposing that they did stop driving, would that be so bad? Chances are they’d switch to transit or an active mode of transportation.)

    If a cyclist really hates wearing a helmet but the law says they have to, what will they do? Stop cycling, most likely. And it’s entirely plausible that they would start driving instead.

    I’m not going to judge anyone who refuses to wear a helmet. There are plenty of reasons not to wear a one, some silly and some quite reasonable. But regardless of motivation, the result of helmet laws is always fewer cyclists, and that’s what we should be worried about.

  40. Contrary to many of your commenters, I think you make very good points, John. Smart cyclists wear helmets. Others use excuses.

  41. Mandatory reflector vests, Sean G? Now on top of carrying around my mandatory helmet everywhere I will have to bring my safety vest if I might be out at night? A National Post columnist (link below) recently suggested cyclists should also wear the same safety equipment motorcyclists do, would you also support that to keep cyclists ‘safe’? How about mandatory mirrors, flags, and strobes/signal lights?

    I agree with Yvonne that all of this just reinforces the idea that cycling is unsafe, and doesn’t address any of the reasons that that cyclists are involved in collisions.

  42. I don’t need a bike helmet to be safe. I need a city that cares about bicycles enough to make the city safe for bicycles like much of Northern Europe or Quebec.
    Cyclists pay daily for the current status quo with their bones, blood and far too often with their lives. Wearing a bike helmet won’t change that.

  43. Bill,

    Couldn’t agree with you more. I don’t always agree with John Lorenc but he does present some lucid commentary here on Sycling Wire.

  44. –Open message to everyone who offers that because they don’t have a helmet law in Copenhagen (and similar bike friendly cities) that we shouldn’t have one in Toronto–

    (Clears throat)

    Toronto and all those lovely European cities ARE DIFFERENT!!! We don’t have the same history, the same narrow streets, the same culture and we absolutely don’t have the same connection to the automobile. North America’s entire economic prosperity was once tied to the automobile, something we’re all accutely aware of now. So it’s only natural that it would take longer for Canadian and Americans to shift our focus away from the car. I think that’s one of the reasons why bike issues take so long to be addressed here.

    In the meantime, while we attempt to reconcile our past devotions with our future requirements, it’s advisable that there be a stop-gap. In the issue of bike safety, the goal is segregated bike lanes and the stop-gap is helmets. Or should we just continue to coast on, advocating no safety measures in favour of head-in-the-clouds idealism over a bike network we may never be able to sell to the general public.

    Yes, other citied have implemented a successful bike strategy without helmets. But we aren’t those other places. We’re Toronto. And in Toronto, today, you need a helmet to safely ride your bike.

  45. Pete: I don’t know about flags, other than for recumbent bikes (where it should be mandatory). Strobes/lights should be required for night riding definitely. Signal lights shouldn’t be required, because arms work just fine (when they are used).

    Having to carry around a helmet isn’t unique to being a cyclist (as I pointed out above, motorcyclists, scooterists(?) and ebicyclists (??) have to do this already), nor would I say it is a burden. In fact, your head generally is well equipped to perform this function already with little-to-no modifications needed! Or clip it to a belt loop on your jeans. Or clip it to a backpack. Or carry it in your hand. Me dost think you protest too much (moreso Leo above you, but you nonetheless). And a safety vest generally balls up into a pretty small, well, ball. I’m not as convinced that this is needed (though, it wouldn’t hurt) as much because all responsible cyclists already have a rear red strobe on their bike, right?

  46. Cycling isn’t dangerous; why should I wear a helmet?

    In Scotland, I used to live across the road from a suspiciously quiet long term care facility. You saw ambulances going in, and occasionally morgue trucks going out, and very rarely, a visitor. It was a facility for brain-injured drivers. Most of them were under 20. One was admitted the day he got his licence at 17. All were comatose, never likely to recover, and might be there for decades.

    I’d recommend some of the studies cited by Avery Burdett here before making helmets compulsory:

  47. Bravo Josh! (clap, clap, clap) I think you’re the first person to justly say here that Toronto is different. We don’t have the same history and culture as some European cities. It will definitely take time to change things here—if we so choose to. I also think helmets are a good thing, even if we had loads of spacious, totally segregated bike lanes across the city. It’s just common sense I think.

    I especially agree with your comment stating:

    “…should we just continue to coast on, advocating no safety measures in favour of head-in-the-clouds idealism over a bike network we may never be able to sell to the general public.”

    This is also in line with what Lorenc said about the TCU having an opportunity to “broaden its base and mature”. I think this is the key here–reaching out to the general public and not appear to be just another special interest group.

  48. I am in the middle of reading an interesting book called Fighting Traffic, which discusses the struggle between pedestrians and motorists in the 1920s, as car traffic increased dramatically in cities and pedestrians were pushed to the sidewalks and designated crossings in the interest of safety. Prior to then, cars were seen as intruders and pedestrians were given the benefit of the doubt. Within a couple of decades, the tables had turned and it was up to pedestrians to take responsibility for their safety by following newly passed regulations. Lots of talk about those new regulations restricting pedestrians’ civil liberties to cross the street wherever they choose.

    I’m not sure that this proves a point either way in the helmet debate, but it is an interesting backdrop anyway.

  49. Are bike helmets about safety here or are they about political expediency? Will this helmet law become a trade off to building better bike infrastructure like separated lanes, etc., or will it be the fig leaf leading to a watershed moment at city hall where council becomes united in the common cause of making Toronto a safer place to cycle?

    In Halifax, where I’m currently living, bike helmet legislation was implemented over a decade ago. Yet that did not lead to any kind of improved cycling infrastructure. Today there are a handful of tiny painted bike lanes on a couple of the downtown roads, almost no parking infrastructure.

    Furthermore, as an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal points out, there was a 62% reduction in cyclist numbers in halifax following helmet legislation.

    I think it’s a tough sell to argue that by giving in to calls for mandatory helmets, cycling in Toronto will somehow be benefited in the long run. As Halifax and many other cities around the world show, mandatory helmet laws are often used to give off the appearance that city hall is promoting biking when in actual fact, it is merely brushing aside all other, more expensive and effectual measures off the table.

  50. I agree that this is a ridiculous debate. It devolves into personal anecdotes about people acting rudely, swept into huge generalizations about transportation modes.

    That’s fine for election politics, but city planners usually back up suggestions with evidence. Let’s keep this discussion civil.

  51. “As a cyclist, I’m very worried that this libertarian ideological view on the helmet issue is going to result in less infrastructure for me. The two go together, there is no way around that.”

    I’m sorry, Shawn, this has probably been beaten to death, but can you demonstrate how having a libertarian attitude toward helmet use will somehow lead to a lack of built bicycle infrastructure?

    I’m an avid cyclist and I rarely wear a helmet. I own one, but I have my own reasons for almost never using one: the cumbersome aspect of carrying one around, the heat, even, yes, the fact that it will mess up my hair. But, as silly as those reasons sound, I am an adult and I will take responsibility for my own actions. If I injure my head in a cycling accident, I must deal with the consequences but, luckily, I don’t bring anyone else into my little mess. This makes it quite a bit different from obeying road rules, where an accident could damage the lives of others who we are not ultimately responsible for.

    I support mandatory helmets for children under the age of 18, because they are not old enough in the eyes of the law to be responsible for their own decisions, but for the rest of us grown ups, this is just nanny state intrusion.

  52. Want to enforce helmet wearing. Don’t do it with restrictions. Instead make an incentive to get people to change their behaviour.

    For example: Those nifty bike only lanes the city is planning (along Jarvis for example) and other downtown routes: enforce bicycle helmets on these routes. Therefore, if you want to make use of a great new amenity, you need to use a helmet. Most people will want to use these bike only right of ways and will thus comply (especially if there is good enforcement). Then it will become a trend and people won’t even think twice about putting their helmet on.

    Think of the HOV lanes. It took a while at first, but now most people are obeying the more than 2 people rule. Remember, its easier to change behaviour through incentives (access to superior riding routes separated from car traffic) than it is to change them through disincentive (trying to enforce a city-wide mandatory helmet law).

    Just my thoughts

  53. Toronto may be different from the European cities that are often cited on this blog, but it is also arguably different from most other North American cities. Prime example, streetcars stop for passengers, and cars stop to allow passengers to cross a lane of traffic.

  54. Many comments ago, someone said: “Helmets AND bike lanes for all.”

    I couldn’t agree more.

    The safest option is BOTH more bike lanes and more helmets. Whether a law will get us there, I don’t know. But you’d be hard-pressed to convince me that I should be thinking either-or.

  55. If we impose helmets, we can say goodbye to a velib or bixi-type bike-sharing program. That would greatly limit the growth of cycling as a valid mode of transportation in the city. So why not continue to educate, inform and encourage?

    If safety is so important, we should also consider lowering speed limits on all streets and roads in Toronto to 30 km/h. We should also mandate that cars be electronically limited to maximum speeds of 100 or 100 km/h. Studies have shown that lower speeds result in fewer injuries. No one needs to travel faster than 100 km/h. It’s illegal anyway.

    6 and 8-lane arterials cause many pedestrian accidents. They should all be dropped to 4 lanes. It would be a lot safer too.

    Driving during snowstorms or when roads are icy? Banned.

    I could go on. “Safety” is like “law and order”. Too often, it’s used to limit other people’s freedom without affecting the promoter’s.

  56. I would argue that motorcycles are large enough to stow the helmet onboard. There are commonly hold-down straps and locks that secure the helmet to the vehicle. But they are a pain and a hindrance — I don’t think anyone would look to the numbers of motorcycle riders as some sort of goal for bicycle use.

    By the way, I always wear a helmet because I bike in an area with heavy and aggressive car traffic and I bike on greenways with heavy and aggressive bike traffic. Accidents can happen any time, so of cours it is smart to wear one. But I would not want to make it mandatory for the reasons outlined on this page and the fact that Toronto should be following what other cities do, not coming up with excuses for why it is different and has to reinvent everything (food carts, people, food carts!)

  57. Hear hear Jake! Finally some stats from a reputable org demonstrating the problems with mandatory helmet laws. Can anyone here in favour of a helmet law cite other legitimate research that shows when a helmet law is implemented the number of cyclists increase, biking infrastructure improves, and the public in turn accepts the cyclist community? I challenge you.

  58. Below is the citation and abstract for a 2007 literature review. The full review is available at

    Bicycle helmet legislation for the uptake of helmet use and prevention of head injuries
    Macpherson A, Spinks A


    Cycling is a popular past-time among children and adults and is highly beneficial as a means of transport and obtaining exercise. However, cycling related injuries are common and can be severe, particularly injuries to the head.

    Bicycle helmets have been advocated as a means of reducing the severity of head injuries, however voluntary use of helmets is low among the general population. Bicycle helmet laws mandating their use have thus been implemented in a number of jurisdictions word-wide in order to increase helmet use. These laws have proved to be controversial with many opponents arguing that the laws may dissuade people from cycling or may result in greater injury rates among cyclists due to risk compensation. This review searched for the best evidence to investigate what effect the bicycle helmet laws have had. There were no randomised controlled trials found, however five studies with a contemporary control were located that looked at bicycle related head injury or bicycle helmet use. The results of these studies indicated a positive effect of bicycle helmet laws for increasing helmet use and reducing head injuries in the target population compared to controls (either jurisdictions without helmet laws or non-target populations). None of the included studies measured actual bicycle use so it was not possible to evaluate the claim that fewer individuals were cycling due to the implementation of the helmet laws. Although the results of the review support bicycle helmet legislation for reducing head injuries, the evidence is currently insufficient to either support or negate the claims of bicycle helmet opponents that helmet laws may discourage cycling.

    This record should be cited as: Macpherson A, Spinks A. Bicycle helmet legislation for the uptake of helmet use and prevention of head injuries. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD005401. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD005401.pub3

  59. Leonard wrote, “If I injure my head in a cycling accident, I must deal with the consequences but, luckily, I don’t bring anyone else into my little mess.” Others have echoed this sentiment.

    Wrong, wrong, wrong. Fortunately, very few of us live in such splendid isolation. When you assume the pose that you alone accept responsibility for the risks you take, you have ignored the impact your injury or demise will have on your family, friends, lovers, employers, colleagues, neighbours and… the person who may have inadvertantly caused an accident. I am NOT talking about an aggressive, reckless driver, btw, but rather someone who finds themselves in a sudden, unpredictable situation that leads to an accident involving a cyclist. I’m not going to spell out the circumstances because everyone knows these things happen. But that individual, though legally innocent, also bears the psychic pain of their role in your injury or death.

  60. Adding to the above comment: Don’t forget that, because we have public health care, anyone’s injury is everyone’s cost! More people taking more risks leading to more accidents just adds more cost to healthcare.

    On helmets: While I understand the inequity involved in making helmets mandatory, I disagree that will hinder an increase in cycling modal share significantly. I’ve always understood that the biggest potential gains in cycling are people who are currently driving (The TTS estimates that, even in the suburbs, a large number of people – something like 30% – live within cycling distance (7kms) of their place of work). Or, in other words, people who can already afford to own and drive a car. If we want Toronto to be taken seriously as a ‘cycling city’ (that is, one where ‘regular people’ cycle regularly, and not just Spacing readers), then we should be targeting a wider demographic group.

    Part of that might involve making some concessions for the sake of safety.

  61. So – are Toronto cyclists (or more accurately cycle advocates) really just children?

    We want this, we want that….

    “We want bike lanes everywhere” – good
    “We want separated lanes” – optimistic, but okay
    “We want respect from drivers and government” – fair enough

    “We don’t want to take any responsibility for our own safety by buying and wearing a frikkin $25 helmet at Canadian Tire” – yeah, so this is where you lose the ear of any non-riding citizen of this city who has yet to decide on this issue.

    I commute and ride recreationally year-round.
    I am out there with you guys. And I am constantly amazed at the continual disdain shown for simple rules of the road and courtesy shown.

    Not everyone of course – the vast majority of riders out there are decent. It’s the wrong way riding, no lights at night, iPod wearing, red light blowing, streetcar crowd smashing, sidewalk surfing dicks out there who are ruining it for the rest of us.

    Every time that “you” willfully and blatantly break the law while riding, every motorist who sees it thinks that much less of cyclists and give us that much less respect and space and support.

    “Your” Jackassery can not be allowed to endanger myself or other riders who are trying to share the road and ride safely.

    We need greater respect from the other users of the road and as much as we should be entitled to it, we are not.
    So we must earn it.
    Ride safely, respectfully and within the law.
    It’s not that hard and it really doesn’t slow you down.

    We gripe about trucks stopped in bike lanes, cars flinging their doors open into traffic, buses changing lanes without looking. It’s all true.
    And the cops need to crack down.
    And they need to crack down on us too.

    We want our place on the road?
    We have to earn it.
    If that takes a helmet law and licencing and increased enforcement by police, well then so be it

  62. Regrettably John,

    I’m finding your turn on this issue to remind me of the Ontario Safety League’s opposition to the new Wave Decks since someone might trip and fall.

    And the TDSB’s need for shorter play equipment at absurd cost to the taxpayer, even though there had been no injury.

    And by this logic we must ban trees, lest children climb them without safety harnesses on.


    All over the world, people enjoy biking, as I did as a child, without the use of a helmut.

    Notwithstanding the prudence of wearing one, particularly if cycling on busy roads……..

    I just do not see this a priority or a particularly positive step.

  63. ^If they really love us, they’ll respect our sovereignty and our independent capacity to make decisions in our own best interest.

    If we love them, we’ll make the conscious decision to leave the house wearing a helmet, but that isn’t something that can or should be mandated.

  64. I see three threads in this discussion. I list them here, together with my responses.

    1) Do helmets protect cyclists against death or serious injury? Probably, although less certainly than their advocates make out.

    2) On the whole, should a responsible cyclist wear one? On the whole, yes.

    3) Should the government enforce this responsibility? Tough call, but on the whole, probably not.

    4) Should the cycling community support the proposal for helmet laws in order to look “responsible” to the driving public? Absolutely not.

  65. On the one hand Toronto is negotiating with Bixi to launch a city-wide bikesharing program similar to Montreal’s. On the other hand Toronto might end up asking the Province to make helmets mandatory for all adults and children. It will be interesting to see how a bikesharing program can survive mandatory helmets.

    We could look to Montreal where Bixi refuted the pro-helmet folk by saying that providing helmets to all the users would be prohibitively expensive and that users should simply take their own helmets. Will usage drop if every user is required to wear a helmet? I would venture yes.

  66. Wow… a majority of members of the so-called cycling community livid at the thought of a helmet bylaw? “Surprise, surprise,” to quote Gomer Pyle. Not sure I agree with such a bylaw myself, but the attitude in so much of the posts above that it interferes with the “spontaneity” of cyling or “personal choice” are quite telling.

  67. This is what’s called a political check-mate. The cyclist community is divided. Council will pass legislation on bike safety (mandatory helmets), and I won’t feel any safer. I wear my bike every day and I swear I almost die on the road once a day because I’m afraid of getting in a collision/run over by a car. Again, helmet discussions are a distraction from the real issues.

    The only way to beat this is to focus on the decision made out of all of the possible decisions that could have been made – this one is not good enough; and to call out council on not taking appropriate action.

    Let me use a car analogy for a moment: if cars were forced to drive in the sides of lanes that were exclusively for big rigs, and motorists kept dying in car/big rig collisions. Now, if there was legislation put through for drivers safety that mandated that drivers wore helmets, what would be the reaction of the driving community? Would it be to debate whether or not helmets provided adequate safety for drivers, looking at data from different cities? Or would it be to challenge the legislation because it doesn’t address the issue that drivers are forced to drive in unsafe circumstances that lead to collisions. The issue is not whether or not helmets are safer – they are. It’s about whether or not roads are safer – they won’t be. A helmet bylaw will put bike safety issues off the table until after the election in 2010. Try talking to your councillor about bike safety after this bylaw is passed – “we already did that”. Check-mate!

  68. “Society incurs a real cost associated with preventable injuries – health care outlays, lost productivity, and so on.”

    By your logic, big brother should impose its’ will on other harmful habits such as smoking and drinking, which have a greater ability to not only harm yourself, but others too.

  69. This is about helmets and nothing else. Not wearing a helmet is stupid. We mandated seatbelts and many other things because people were too stupid to take precautions and it should be the same for helmets.There is no argument otherwise that makes sense.

  70. John Spragge: I wonder if you understand that we live in a majority rule democracy. Everything we do legislatively is the result of a majority vote. Politicians act in a way that best pleases the majority because it extends their time in government. Those who understand this system and seek to work within it can be very successful.

    Cyclists are a growing group, but are far from the majority of road users. If we cyclists want a bigger share of the road we’re going to have convince drivers that we deserve it. They have the roads, we want a part of the roads…we might have to deal with their impressions of cyclists.

    Or, if you find the concept too philosophically undesirable, you can just not worry about what drivers think. Cyclists will continue to shout into the dark, drivers will continue to think only of their own place on the road and we’ll be a whole lot of nowhere. When has anything ever been accomplished in this country without some talking, some give and take?

    You ask:
    “Should the cycling community support the proposal for helmet laws in order to look “responsible” to the driving public?”

    I ask:
    Will it get us what we want?

  71. Bike helmet arguments invariably devolved into an ideological us-them impasse. Luckily there has been some science done on the subject. Anyone truly interested in the societal effects of mandatory helmet legistlation should look at the surprising results of studies that have been done in Australia, where they have had mandatory helmet legistlation since the early 1990s.

    “Surveys show Western Australia’s mandatory helmet legislation reduced public cycling numbers by at least 30%, yet total hospitalised cyclist injuries did not decline at all. The reduction in head injury numbers was marginal. West Australian cyclist numbers recovered in the decade to 2000 but hospital admissions have been at record levels since 1997, roughly 30% above pre-law levels by 2000. In essence, the results strongly suggest that the mandatory wearing of helmets increases the risk of accidents and thus injuries.”

    “As reported in March 2007 and based on data from Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria, the number of Australian children walking or riding a bicycle to school has plunged from about 80% in 1977 to the current level around 5%. The data on this website and on this page confirms that in Western Australia, the massive decline in cycling (and children’s health and safety) began in 1991 when the helmet law was enacted. In June 2008, research at Melbourne’s Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute found that Australia is now the fattest nation on earth.”

  72. Instead of these absolute statements that not wearing a helmet is stupid and there is no argument against wearing a helmet, can the pro-helmet lobby give us some stats of how when a helmet law is implemented the number of cyclists increase, biking infrastructure improves, and the public in turn accepts the cyclist community? John Lorinc? Shawn Micallef? Come on – back up your arguments!

  73. Dan, I see it as distressing cognitive dissonance. I can’t argue passionately about, say, bike lanes without also stating unconditional support for helmets, because both can save lives/injuries sometimes. It’s bad public politics otherwise.

    I’m quite comfortable riding in traffic downtown or way out in Scarborough in traffic without bike lanes (as one of the anti-helmet commenters said above, “biking is safe, why should I wear a helmet” — if biking is safe, why do we need bike lanes?) but I recognize they help in some situations and, specifically, help folks who aren’t comfortable in traffic (or didn’t grow up riding down country roads with 18-wheelers flying by at 90kph as I did). Again, I don’t care about mandatory laws, frightening away potential cyclists (helmet hair! gotta carry my helmet! I know I know, the drama and suffering of it all!), fat Australians or weighting what kind of bike initiative saves more lives. The future is cycling, more people are going to cycle, helmets or no helmets. There is momentum now.

    This “personal choice” and “I don’t want to wear a helmet” view is a political landmine because it opens a giant fissure in what should be a rock solid “safer-better biking everywhere” campaign and that fissure will collect a lot of water that will freeze and expand and split it further open, just like Toronto’s roads do in winter. With this recent bit in Toronto with Councillor Walker we’re now arguing about helmets as personal choice rather than why Walker’s proposal may be unworkable and wrong-headed (as iSkyscraper and others point out) rather than simply saying, unconditionally “Everybody should wear helmets, yes, now, there are more pressing issues, Mr. Walker…”.

    So, no helmets, no bike lanes. Libertarians don’t need either.

  74. Good point, Shawn. A real libertarian wouldn’t want the city government to collect taxes and thus would have a real hard time getting a bike lane built.

  75. Jake,

    Did the 62% reduction in the number of cyclist (Effect of legislation on the use of bicycle helmets ) not set off any alarm bells with you, or the researchers for that matter?

    If helmets were the reason for the decline, then that portion (62%) must have come from the portion of riders whom previously did not wear helmets. According to the report, in the years sampled before the legislation, 36% to 38% of riders wore helmets. If helmet legislation caused ridership to fall 62% it suggest that all those whom previously did wear helmets stopped cycling.

    I find that hard to believe. There must be some confounding influence not accounted for.

  76. “There must be some confounding influence not accounted for.”

    The single most important factor to my personal perception of safety as a cyclist is the presence of other cyclists on the road.

  77. sally,

    That is certainly a plausible one. The question is then, is it a temporary one. As the research paper you quoted above shows, the effect may be temporary. Nullifying the argument.

  78. I’d just like to say that I’ve been actively cycling in this city for five years and have wore a helmet almost everywhere for most of those years. I’d welcome this legislation and feel it’s just another sign of “cylcing” maturing to a level where it is taken seriously as a mode of transportation. I’d suggest the “cycling community” get behind this and instead fight off unnecessary legislation like licensing.

  79. Hi Glen, not sure where you are getting that the effect might be temporary from the Australia research. In any case, my suggestion about perception of safety was a personal response, and as such I probably should have kept it to myself. The point of well-conducted studies is not to speculate cause based on anecdote, but to look at and consider the correlative results. If someone was truly interested in debunking such a study they would need to conduct a proper research study of their own. And I would hope that, given the gravity of the results from Australia, Canadian governments considering mandatory helmet legislation (whether municipal or provincial or federal) would undertake some serious research into the matter rather than winging it on “common sense.”

  80. Shawn: If supporting bike infrastructure without supporting helmet laws is politically incoherent and cognitively dissonant, then how is it that the places with the best bike infrastructure (Denmark, Holland, etc.) don’t have helmet laws? Your argument reminds me of a lot of medieval scholasticism: clever, elegant, logical — and empirically false.

    Also, why do you keep bringing up libertarianism? The main argument against helmet laws has nothing to do with libertarianism; it’s a strictly utilitarian argument about whether or not helmet laws are effective from a public health perspective. A lot of studies — like the one cited above by sally — suggest that they’re not.

  81. Helmets have been made mandatory in enough jurisdictions that we know what will happen.

    If enforced, cycling use will decline and injuries will increase. Head injuries may go down slightly but overall injury rates rise since the number of cylists on the road has more effect on injuries than helmet use.

    Studies show that helmet use for drivers or lower speed limits could have positive safety impacts but any politician who dared suggest this law would suffer early retirement because there are so many drivers. Motor vehicles kill pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers. Are drivers childish because they want to drive fast without helmet head?

  82. James MacNevin:

    I don’t want to repeat an earlier post, but I’ll take a snipped from something a wrote above because this “Copenhagen doesn’t have a helmet law” argument so pisses me off…

    “Toronto and all those lovely European cities ARE DIFFERENT!!! We don’t have the same history, the same narrow streets, the same culture and we absolutely don’t have the same connection to the automobile.”

    We have more cars, wider roads and have historically been more inclined to bow to the wishes of drivers. As such, cycling in our city involves not only more interaction with drivers but requires cyclists to interact solely on the driver’s turf. Cycling in a North American city starts at a level that’s more dangerous for the cyclist. As the level of bike infrastructure increases, the need for helmets decreases. As they have tons of great bike lanes, they have less need for helmets. We have ZERO, so our need for personal protection is greater.

    Hopefully one day a direct comparison between us and the Europeans will be more sensible. But right now, there’s precious little to compare.

  83. People are simply deluding themselves by thinking that a concession on this point (helmets) will result in gains on the other points on the cyclists’ agenda. Of course this is a distraction. That’s the point. Michael Walker is simply not interested in advancing the interests of cyclists. Cyclists therefore spend time on the defensive (and don’t forget, the proposal is not *just* helmets, but helmets *and* registration (OMFG!)). And even if they “win”, they lose because of the weeks, months, years and media exposure that was devoted to this issue as opposed to concrete things that will really make bike riding safe.

    Here’s a graph showing the exponential growth in ridership in NYC between 1998 and 2008. At the same time ridership more that doubled, cycling casualties dropped by more than half – in absolute numbers. If this doesn’t say all that needs to be said about increasing safety-through-numbers, then I don’t know what can.

  84. Sally,

    It is right in the abstract “West Australian cyclist numbers recovered in the decade to 2000”.

  85. Josh: Yes, of course there are differences between Toronto and, say, Copenhagen, but are those differences significant to the issue at hand? Do they justify diametrically opposed policies? Every place on earth is different from every other place on earth. But one thing that most of them have in common is a lack of helmet laws for adult cyclists.

    The relevant question here — Do helmet laws lead to fewer injuries? — is one that can only be answered empirically, through rigorous analysis of the data from around the world. It’s not about principles or politics or morality, it’s about what works and what doesn’t. If the preponderance of evidence suggests that helmet laws lead to positive public health outcomes, then we should all support helmet laws; if it suggests that helmet laws lead to negative public health outcomes, then we should oppose helmet laws. Either way, I think the debate needs to stay focused on that central question.

    For the record, I cycle every day and wear a helmet every day.

  86. Josh, before votes come principles. Making a principled stand wins arguments. Playing quid pro quo without a principled stand to back it up generally just gets you taken to the cleaners. If we stand up to drivers with the principle that we have a right under the law to cycle, and we have a right to do it safely, most of them will concede that point. If they take us on about helmets, we should again answer out of principle: either yes, they make us safer, and we agree to a law requiring us to wear them, or no, they don’t make us safer, and this research backs us up, or even, based on Mill’s principle, that we do wear helmets, but we reject a law with no aim but to coerce us for our own good.

    Drivers in Toronto fall into three general categories: those of us who cycle ourselves, and so support cyclists on all or most issues. Judging from the actual election results, this type of motorist predominates in Toronto. Other motorists don’t ride and don’t understand cycling issues: I maintain that we can reach more of these people with a principled argument than by playing political games. And finally, we have a small minority of motorists who simply regard cyclists as a nuisance. We will never make headway with these people; if we agree to mandatory helmets, they’ll start telling us to abide by the “rules” Elmer the Safety Elephant taught them in primary school.

  87. thanks Glen, my bad.

    Browsing through the Australian work, I’m not seeing any data on people’s reasons for letting their cycling slide. It would certainly be interesting to see what the factors are. My guess is there’s a number of them. But there I go again… guessing. I agree with Josh that the issues are different here than they are in old European cities. That’s one of the reasons why, if Walker was serious about actually improving conditions for cyclists, he’d be pushing for Toronto-specific research funding at this point, rather than legislation.

  88. I find the complacency to say “well there’s a proposed bylaw around bike helmets, so I guess I’m either for or opposed” startling and short-sighted. We need to reframe this discussion.

    There is consensus in the cycling community: more should be done to prevent car-bike collisions in the city – I challenge anyone here to disagree with this.

    If this is what we believe, why not fight every chance we get for where there is consensus rather than jumping on the bandwagon because one councillor wants a policy that is second best. Why not stand up for what is the best solution rather than peddling in circles around the helmet issue? Why not say that making bike helmets mandatory is not enough, and focus all efforts at city hall on collision prevention? Regardless of what you think about the helmet bylaw, the cycling community needs to re-frame the discussion here: “mandatory bike helmets??? we want our streets collision-free!”

    For those that say mandatory helmets is a step, then you should up in arms saying no bike helmet bylaw without more bike lanes. Accepting one and leaving the rest to chance is giving up.

  89. wow, apparently cyclists are deeply divided. thank you, michael walker, for helping point out this division.

    thanks, as well, for assisting to discredit cyclists to the non-bike-riding public.

    now cyclists have to overcome these divisions and the lack of credibility before working together to get some real bike infrastructure.

    i’d say (with sarcasm): mission accomplished.

  90. in response to Herb –
    In Australia where bike helmets are required, and as my city tries to roll out bike-sharing schemes, the issue of helmets is becoming a serious hurdle to implementation. Because most systems in Europe, Montreal etc don’t have to deal with how you track, rent, offer sizes or hygienically share helmets, nor can you expect some people (eg tourists) to BYO helmet.

    no helmets just might be an advantage to keep.

  91. More so than mandatory helmets, a mandatory license would be a massive disadvantage for visitors to the city. I brought my helmet with me on a recent visit to Toronto and rented a bike. If I’d needed a Special Toronto Bike License? Get stuffed!

  92. Please refer to to take a look at the survey results that helped to back up my stated positions at the PWIC meeting against Cllr. Walker’s proposal to mandate helmet use, and to implement a licensing program for cyclists.

    Mandating helmet use is a barrier to entry because it reinforces the idea that cycling is unsafe. It is also an easy step for government to take so that they can be seen to care about, and take action on the issue of cyclists safety.

    I believe the mandatory helmet and licensing issues are a distraction from the real solutions to creating safer conditions for cyclists – namely, the actual implementation of bike lanes, and public education campaigns for all road users about how to safely, and courteously share our public roadways. The other thing that would be make a tangible, long term difference to road sharing and respect is the updating of the Ontario Driver’s Handbook which currently has little to no information about cyclists, their habits, their rights/responsibilities on the road, or the myriad road marking and signage that pertain to them.

  93. First premise: When we talk about improving safety, we are looking to reduce the _rate_ of harm that occurs.

    Cycling “Advocates” who have bothered to take the time to research the issue have discovered that the easiest/cheapest way to improve safety is to encourage more people to become cyclists more often. This is because of the “Safety in numbers effect” that happens when cyclists ride on our roads. The happy side effect is not only are the cyclists safer, but the overall number, and the severity, of crashes and collisions that occur on busy cycling routes is reduced. So encouraging more cycling doesn’t just make the cyclists safer, it makes everyone safer.

    Second premise: the “Safety in numbers” effect exists.

    Cycling “Advocates” are against public policy that would make all cyclists always wear a helmet, and you’re not sure why? Advocates have discovered that in almost all places where helmets have been mandated, participation levels decrease. That is, there are fewer people riding in places where helmets became mandatory than there were before, at the same time the overall number (and the severity) of injuries did not decrease. This meant the rate of injuries increased, therefore there was a decline in ‘safety’.

    Third premise: Mandatory helmets keeps people off of bikes.

    Which means that cycling “advocates” are right. If we want to see safety improve, helmets haven’t yet been shown to work — not as public policy anyways.

  94. Yvonne,

    My question is, why do the two policies — helmets and bike infrastructure — need to be mutually exclusive? If they are cast as such, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. But if they are bundled by cycling advocates, the helmet/safety issue isn’t a distraction, just in the same way that the cycling infrastructure file encompasses several policy strands.

  95. Safety does not equal helmets, John. Safety means eliminating the danger at the source, through traffic calming and better facilities for cyclists.

    I can’t tell you how much people who are supposedly supporting and defending cyclists advocating a measure that will discourage urban cycling makes me feel blessed to live in Montréal. (See my linked website – cyclists’ organisations united to beat such a move over a decade ago. And we have Bixi and a burgeoning cycling culture now!

    If a violent rapist or misogynist murderer made the headlines, would you be calling for women to have to wear headscarves or refrain from short skirts? Why are you targeting the victims and not the perpetrators?

  96. Let’s not beat around the bush:

    A helmet law is tantamount to official endorsement of a non-active, unhealthy, and overweight lifestyle. I’m not 100% sure about Canada, but at least here in the U.S., last time I checked obesity was costing our health care system A WHOLE LOT MORE than cyclist head injuries.

  97. It’s a distraction in that precious debate time is taken up by the issue, at City Hall, in newspapers, on, everywhere. The idea of a red herring is nothing new in politics, it’s a tool that’s been long used to distract the public’s attention.

  98. John Lorinc wrote:
    y question is, why do the two policies — helmets and bike infrastructure — need to be mutually exclusive?

    Because that’s how they’ll be used by councillors hostile to infrastructure. Once you’ve done the helmet/licensing(!!!!!) part, you’ve “dealt” with the problem. And so you won’t need to do anything that might take road space away from drivers.

  99. Further: whether or not the helmet and licensing proposals are a distraction is itself a rather large distraction from the question of their merits as public policy. As someone with the occasional nerdy/wonky proclivities, John, I’m surprised that you’d take it as a given that mandatory helmets laws are good policy largely due to intuitions based on “common sense.”

  100. The Ontario Liberal provincial government flirted with the idea of mandatory helmet legislation when they first inherited the empty coffers from the Mike Harris Regime.

    It seemed like a win-win idea at the time. Everyone in Ontario wanted more money for hospitals, schools, and roads, but there was none. The government had to do something! Let’s make some laws preventing people from doing something they always have done. That way, the government can be seen as being pro-active, while not actually spending any money.

    The problem with this idea is that it does not really make taxpayers all that happy, and annoys everyone else.

  101. John (Lorinc), it seems to me that the discussion comes down to three questions. First, do helmet laws work? I have read too much on both sides of the question to say I believe with any certainty that they do. I think my helmet keeps me safer. But I don’t know if a law requiring all cyclists to wear a helmet will keep me or any other cyclist safe. That leads to the second question: can we determine that the safety benefits of helmet legislation justify the various resources involved in enforcing such a law? The facts seem even more equivocal on that point, but again, more information might convince me. Finally, on what basis can we link the question of helmets with other measures for the safety of cyclists?

  102. John,

    You ask a question about whether there would have been a different outcome had there been a different champion for the helmet law. The answer is no.

    This isn’t the first time there has been a debate in Toronto about a helmet law. In response to a previous iteration the Province passed regulations that specifically forbid a municipality from passing it’s own helmet rules. Such a move can only be made by the Province.

    Given that, pushing for a helmet law at the City is mischief making plain and simple.

    On the broader issue I am quite concerned that several of the Councillors who appeared before the Works Comittee in favour of the helmet rule have a spotty voting history on cycling safety initiatives such as bike lanes. Many things contribute to accidents involving cyclists. The most important is the profound danger automobiles create for other users of the City’s rights of ways. I’ve done a little investigation: the number one cause of death for Canadians ages 5-29 is accidents involving automobiles.

    I agree the province should review it’s regulations on helmets. The City should focus on what it can do which is to improve the cycling environment.



  103. I just now discovered this thread via spacing montreal. Very impressive number of comments! Another point which I did not see mentioned (I admit not reading ALL of the comments) is the fact that wearing a helmet also increases the *perception* of security, and may thus lead helmeted bicycle riders to take more risks than they would have otherwise.

    Bicycle safety is a complex and multi-faceted subject and there are no simple solutions. Those who demand mandatory bicycle laws are looking for a miracle cure, but there is no such thing. And mandatory helmet laws often come at the expense of making progress on other fronts related to bicycle safety such as road design guidelines which are adapted to bicycles. Furthermore, by reinforcing the idea that cycling is a dangerous activity which requires special protections (a helmet), we are providing a convenient pretext for shifting the blame for accidents onto cyclists: He was run over by a truck, but he died because he was not wearing a helmet!

  104. There are a host of reasons for our governments to encourage cycling: increased physical activity, improved air quality, and reduced congestion, to name a few. A cursory glance at most municipal and provincial websites reveals that these institutions are well aware of the benefits of cycling. Why, then, would they consider doing the opposite?

    Helmet laws are a step in the wrong direction. They send a loud message that cycling is dangerous. Think of some other activities that require helmets: construction, snowboarding competitions, Formula 1, bobsled races, etc. It’s a pretty select (and exciting!) group. More than the annoyance/cost factor, it’s this message that ‘cycling is dangerous/extreme’ that’s problematic and discouraging, serving to marginalize an activity that’s already pushed ‘as far to the edge of the road as practicable.’

    One shouldn’t be coerced into wearing a helmet in order to ride to work, to the park, or to visit friends. Cyclists are going about these everyday activities in a way that is healthy and non-polluting – these aren’t extreme sports. Anything that sends the message that cycling to school presents a risk of head-injury similar to ice climbing is bound to discourage. If the situation really is cause for that much trepidation, surely we’d do better to look at the root causes, rather than a set of relatively rare symptoms.

    In 2000, the advocacy/umbrella group Vélo Québec produced a thorough report on why they did not support the introduction of a mandatory helmet law. Their mémoire noted that the fatality rates of pedestrians and motorists were both significantly higher than that of cyclists, that the costs (of inactivity) would outweigh the savings if even 1,000 cyclists were discouraged from riding (a small number across Toronto’s population of 5m+), and that creating a favourable environment for cyclists would be a far greater contribution to safety.

    See for details (in French)

  105. I’ll wear a helmet while riding my bike once peds and cagers start.
    Most preventable head injuries are NOT from cyclists, yet from the two above mentioned groups. Here in St Catharines, a motorist struck a tree and now has serious head injuries. Why should I (taxpayer) have to pay for his medical treatment, when a helmet could have prevented it?
    I own a helmet and put it on every so often to see if I could ever put up with a helmet law. I take it off within a minute because the straps are uncomfortable and the it reduces my peripheral vision.
    So by all means, put a helmet law in place. I’ll be in more accidents and end up costing the health care system more in the long run.
    And it is true that cars pass helmeted cyclists closer.
    And come winter, my ears will freeze off, as it is even more uncomfortable wearing a toque and helmet.

    And who are helmets for? The cyclist that averages 15-20km/h while commuting or the laughable lycra wearers who try and act like Lance?

    Kiss goodbye to any chance of a bixi like system in Toronto if a helmet law is passed. This is why Vancouver will NEVER have a proper bike sharing venture ala Montréal.