Earlier this month, on July 22, the city council of Saskatoon struck down official consideration of a mandatory bike helmet bylaw, despite official requests from area medical professionals to prioritize such a consideration.
Addressing the matter, councillor Darren Hill told the city’s transportation committee, “Bicycle helmets are the responsibility of parents to look after with their children, and when it comes to adults, I think Darwin’s theory will figure that out for those that choose not to wear them,” referring to Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. In other words, if city cyclists choose not to wear helmets, they’re on their own when it comes to the consequences.
Last month, Royal University Hospital pediatric physician Dr. Carla Angeliski wrote to council, urging the adoption of a bike helmet bylaw — or at least a meaningful debate — at the earliest opportunity.
With city council’s decision, Angeliski’s opinion in response was evident.
“All I can say is that I am extremely disappointed that they have shown such short-sightedness on such an important issue,” she said, following the transportation committee’s shelving of her testimony as information, rather than it being passed along to council. While no explanation regarding council’s decision was cited, it’s conceivable that what changed the minds of councillors the last time the issue was debated — in 2007 — prevailed again with this discussion. Back then, as councillor Charlie Clark recalled, the idea that a helmet bylaw might be a good way forward was more widespread. After debating the matter, though, issues about how to enforce a helmet bylaw and evidence put forward arguing that such bylaws won’t necessarily make cycling safer changed political minds.
Angeliski, in both her response to the matter and her written testimony, disagreed. From her medical perspective as a physician, especially in emergency matters as pertaining to children, she indicated that bike helmet regulations — like those seen in Alberta or British Columbia, for example — are “progressive and prevantative,” to use the words of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. Bike helmets, she said, have been shown to reduce traumatic brain injury in both children and adults.
Earlier this week, on July 27, an opinion editorial published by the same newspaper said the same. Written by Noreen Agrey, executive director of the Saskatchewan Prevention Instititute, it read, “Mandatory helmet laws increase the number of individuals wearing helmets. In Halifax, legislation was introduced in 1997 and helmet use increased to 80 per cent from 30 per cent in a two-year period. It has remained stable since then.”
“Cycling-related brain injuries are preventable for the most part,” Agrey also wrote. “Wearing a properly fitted bicycle helmet reduces the risk of a head injury by up to 85 per cent. This could save taxpayers $195 million annually in medical costs. In contrast, the cost of a helmet is minimal.
“Adding our voice to Dr. Carla Angelski’s, we continue to challenge the city to take this a step further and adopt mandatory bike helmet legislation to protect its citizens.”