[ Robert Silverman ]
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[ Cybernetically, Bicycle Bob Xe-Dda.p ]
Official Le MàB Position on Helmet Law
Public Hearings on Proposed Changes to the Highway Code, Quebec City


Le Monde à Bicyclette(Citizens on Cycles) was founded in April, 1975 in order to advance the rights of Montreal region bicyclists as well as those afraid to begin pedaling because of lack of safe facilities for bicycling in Montreal at that time. To encourage bicycling and to make its practice more secure we struggled to convince governments of all levels as well as the major employers to :

  • Construct a vast network of safe bicycle paths.
  • Install a great deal of safe bicycle parking.
  • Permit access to the CUM Metro.
  • Make it possible to cross the St. Lawrence River.
  • Permit access for bicyclists to the commuter train lines.
  • Install front end bicycle racks on buses, particularly
    those serving the more distant suburbs.
  • Insert traffic awareness, bicycle mechanics and overall bicycle culture
    in the ciricula of schools, like is done in Holland.
  • Enforce the highway code concerning the major bicycling infractions,
    particularly those concerning noor inadequate lighting
    and reflectors on bicycles at night.
  • Controland penalize drivers who violate speeding laws, make U turns,
    enter lights when red and other unpunished violations
    of the highway code that occur in Montreal every day.


    We have around 300 members. We have published our bilingual newspaper, Le Monde à Bicyclette for the last 25 years. The paper has around 50,000 readers per issue.

    In the last quarter century, clearly the situation for local cyclists has improved. Hundreds of kilometers of good bicycle paths are in place, including the North South Artery which thousands of cyclists use per day to reach their downtown destinations for work or school. Bicycle parking is extensive. Metro access is assured outside of rush hours. A link from Notre-Dame Island to the South Shore, the Champlain Estacade combination and several boats now permit inter St. Lawrence River access in addition to the Metro.

    These facilities have greatly reduced cyclofrustration and now about 160,000 people a day in the Montreal region use their bicycles in the clement seasons as their maintransport mode. For these reasons the US magazine Bicycling awarded Montreal the reward as the most bicycle-friendly large city in North America. Considering our climate, we are justifiably proud to have made a contribution to Montreal's winning this prize.


    Mandatory Helmet Law

    Our record shows Le Monde à Bicyclette wants more bicyclists and safe conditions for them. But, obligatory helmet use will have the opposite effect as it has everywhere else it has been imposed. Obviously, it would be better and safer if bicycle riders wore helmets. I always do. But imposing its use and fining those not wearing them is another matter. Education, not coercion is the best path here.

    It is for these reasons that most bicycling advocacy organizations around the world, like ours, are opposed to mandatory helmet legislation. We want more bicyclists. Such laws reduce bicycling. In Victoria Province, Australia, a thirty percent drop in bicycling took place after the law's imposition. Obviously, similar results happened in other regions.

    Women with long hair have difficulty placing their hair inside the helmet. Students and office employees would have to add a helmet to their parcels of school books and purses. Carrying the helmet around is awkward. Many people cannot afford the costs of a helmet.( Only the very wealthy Westmount, Hampstead and Cote St Luc municipalities havepassed the law.) In summer heat wearing a helmet increases the heat burden.

    We know that some doctors who treat head injuries want the helmet law. But the medical community is divided on the question. The British Medical Association wrote a massive report called "The Health Benefits of Bicycling" which it distributed to all doctors in England and is in all their office waiting rooms. Among other observations on the benefits of bicycling, the report noted that regular bicyclists lived an average of 2 years longer than non-bicyclists. This was due, they noted, to the better cardio vascular systems of regular bicyclists, obviously resulting from their daily exercise.

    The British Medical Association is opposed to mandatory helmet laws "because the law discourages bicycling, an activity which improves health". Also from England, we note in the Winter 1999 issue of Cycle Digest that the Royal Academy of General Practitioners also opposes mandatory helmet laws for the same reasons. So does the City of Montreal, Quebec's largest city and the one that won the continental prize as the most bicycle-friendly city.

    It is revealing to note that in the industrialised countries where bicycle riding and bicycle commuting are the most prevalent, Holland, Germany, Sweden, there are no mandatory helmet laws and helmet use is rare. In these enlightened bicycle-friendly countries, extensive and safe bicycle paths, priority advancing for bicycles at intersections via a special bicycle light phase which precedes by a significant time period the appearance of the green light for automobiles and rigourous police enforcement of the highway code for both cyclists and motorists render bicycling safe. That's how to build safe cycling; not by the isolated imposition of a mandatory helmet law. Anything else than the above mentioned pro bicycling measures is pure hypocricy. This hypocricy is clear when one considers that in the "Green Paper on Revisions to the Quebec Higway Code" the Transport Minister recommends legalizing the right of cars to turn right on red lights. Evidently, such a measure would surely increase deaths and injuries to pedestrians and bicyclists , already endangered by "tolerated" incessant dangerous and illegal car driving habits on Montreal streets.

    The consequences of the measures to require hockey players to wear helmets and other guards is instructive. Because of perceived feelings of invulnerability, what occured? There was a big increase in spinal cord injuries, afterwards. Similar feelings of invulnerability among young macho male bicylists resulting from a helmet law would certainly arise Its false sense of security would certainly annul the purported safety benefits of wearing a helmet among certain immature segments of bicycle riders.


    Policing and Enforcement

    Look at the reality now. The Provincial Police Union admits publically that its members do not enforce the speed limit as their job descriptions require because of a collective contract renewal dispute and their refusal to issuing tickets to speeding motorists is a pressure tactic to deprive the Quebec Government of revenues. Incomprehensibly,in Montreal, the local police people "tolerate" every day and night the most flagrant violations of the highway code. Montreal pedestrians, bicyclists and car drivers themselves observe dangerous violations of the law such as motorists entering an intersection on a red light, exceeding the speed limits, indimidating pedestrians when turning at an intersection in spite of pedestrians crossing - Prince Arthur and St. Lawrence - the street on their green light as they have priority over cars turning there, and making U turns all over the place. The Gazette published an evocative op ed article recently about this growing phenemona on Montreal streets by lawyer Richard Goldman. What a disgrace for our city!

    Montreal policewomen and policeman also don't even enforce the highway code concerning unlawful bicycle riding. They don't even enforce the law on the most dangerous of bicycling infractions: Not having the legal lighting and reflectors on your bicycle while riding at night. In their presentation Velo Quebec noted a dispraportianate amount of accidents involving bicyclist occur at night in spite of a much lesser quantity of people riding after dark. Obviously! Can one really expect the police forces to enforce a mandatory helmet law!?

    The Minister of Transport claims to want to make the roads of Quebec safer. This is not the way. This is a red herring, a way to avoid looking at the real causes of road deaths and injuries. That is why the former Transport Minister, Jacques Brassard, after public hearings in 1996, where Citizens on Cycles and other concerned parties like Vélo Quebec - the province wide bicycle promotion and advocacy organisation - presented a report, rejected the mandatory helmet laws in 1976.

    Instead of a mandatory helmet law which would discourage the only ecological and non motorized form of individual transport, the bicycle, if the Minister of Transport of Quebec was sincere about increasing the security of bicylists and other road users, would:

  • Finance safe bicycling infrastructures.
  • Reduce the massive subsidies to private cars.
  • Become a Minister of Transport and not one of highways, by massively subsidizing public transport such as the CTCUM, trains and buses.
  • Bring back tolls on bridges and autoroutes.
  • Reduce and enforce speed limits in cities.
  • Abolish the provincial sales tax on bicycles and parts.
  • Do not permit car drivers to make right turns on red lights.


    For the new millenium and in the time that Canada has agreed to reducing its greenhouse gases, Mr. the Minister, I urge you to reject the mandatory helmet law and consider these suggestions.


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    Respectfully presented by Robert Silverman, President, Le Monde à Bicyclette/Citizens on Cycles.

    Published in the Montreal Gazette Newspaper, february 14th 2000.


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    © Robert Silverman 2000