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Canadian Paediatric Society

Bicycle helmet legislation

Bicycling is a popular activity and a healthy, environmentally friendly form of transportation. However, bicycling is also a leading cause of injuries in children and adolescents, with risk of head injuries being particularly serious. While current injury data is lacking, hospital statistics from a few years ago clearly support the enactment of helmet legislation in many provinces/territories. According to 2009-10 statistics, about 20 young people aged 19 and under die from bicycle-related injuries each year in Canada, while another 50 or so experience permanent disability.23 Approximately 700 children and youth are hospitalized annually for serious bicycle injuries.24 The impact of head injuries is often lifelong, with the risk of learning impairment, developmental delay and behavioural challenges as common effects.25

Most injuries sustained by children and youth are both predictable and preventable, so there is every reason for governments to legislate proactively. Research shows that more people choose to wear helmets where mandatory bike helmet laws are in effect and that injury rates are about 25% lower than in areas without legislation.26  Nevertheless, five provinces/territories in Canada still do not have bicycle helmet legislation.

One Cochrane review showed that helmets reduce the risk of head and brain injuries by about 69%, severe brain injuries by 74% and facial injuries by 65%.27 If every cyclist wore a properly fitted helmet, about 4 out of every 5 head injuries could be prevented.28 Yet among youth 12 to 17 years of age, only 37.5% said they always wore a bicycle helmet when riding.29  Up to 70% of deaths occur in boys aged 10 to 19.30 Emotional costs aside, it is estimated that every $1 invested in bicycle helmets saves $29 in injury costs.31

The Canadian Paediatric Society continues to advocate for the mandatory use of Canadian Standards Association-approved bicycle helmets for riders of all ages. Legislation must be accompanied by enforcement, and school- and community-based education programs must reinforce helmet use. The evidence suggests that even legislation without significant enforcement increases use temporarily – for a few years, at least after implementation – but sustained effectiveness requires ongoing enforcement and promotion.32

Province/Territory2012 status2016 statusRecommended actionsComments
British Columbia

Excellent

Excellent

Meets all CPS recommendations.

Alberta

Good

Good

Amend current legislation to include all age groups.

Saskatchewan

Poor

Poor

Enact legislation that requires all age groups to wear helmets. 

Education programs are available.

Manitoba

Poor

Good

Amend current legislation to include all age groups.

Ontario

Good

Good

Amend current legislation to include all age groups.

Quebec

Poor

Poor

Enact legislation that requires all age groups to wear helmets.

Education programs are available.

New Brunswick

Excellent

Excellent

Meets all CPS recommendations.

Nova Scotia

Excellent

Excellent

Meets all CPS recommendations.

Prince Edward Island

Excellent

Excellent

Meets all CPS recommendations.

Newfoundland and Labrador

Poor

Excellent

Meets all CPS recommendations.

Yukon

Poor

Poor

Enact legislation that requires all age groups to wear helmets.

Whitehorse has an all-ages helmet by-law.

Northwest Territories

Poor

Poor

Enact legislation that requires all age groups to wear helmets.

Inuvik has an all-ages helmet by-law. Yellowknife has a helmet by-law for children and youth younger than 18 years old.

Nunavut

Poor

Poor

Enact legislation that requires all age groups to wear helmets.

Excellent

Province/territory requires all cyclists to wear helmets, with financial penalties for non-compliance. Parents are responsible for ensuring their child wears a helmet.

Good

Province/territory requires all cyclists younger than 18 years of age to wear a helmet.

Poor

Province/territory has no bike helmet legislation.

Endnotes

  1. Parachute. The cost of injury in Canada report, 2015: www.parachutecanada.org/downloads/research/Cost_of_Injury-2015.pdf (accessed April 20, 2016).
  2. Canadian Institute for Health Information. Cycling Injury Hospitalizations in Canada, 2009–2010: https://www.cihi.ca/en/info_cycling_injury_09-10_en.pdf (accessed April 20, 2016).
  3. Parachute Canada. The Financial Costs, and Prevention Strategies of Unintentional Injuries, January 2011: http://www.parachutecanada.org/downloads/injurytopics/PublicSectorDigestInjuryPrevention.pdf (accessed April 20, 2016).
  4. 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. DOI: 0.1002/14651858.CD005401.pub2.
  5. Thompson DC, Rivara FP, Thompson R. Helmets for preventing head and facial injuries in bicyclists. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2000;(2):CD001855.
  6. Parachute Canada. Helmet FAQ: http://www.parachutecanada.org/injury-topics/item/helmet-faqs (accessed April 20, 2016).
  7. Statistics Canada. Canadians that wore a helmet when bicycling, by age group and frequency of use, household population aged 12 and older, 2013/2014: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/150624/t001b-eng.htm (accessed April 20, 2016).
  8. SmartRisk. The economic burden of injury in Canada, 2000: www.parachutecanada.org/downloads/research/reports/EBI2009-Eng-Final.pdf (accessed April 20, 2016).
  9. Parachute. The cost of injury in Canada report, 2015: www.parachutecanada.org/downloads/research/Cost_of_Injury-2015.pdf (accessed April 20, 2016).
  10. Hagel BE, Yanchar NL; Canadian Paediatric Society, Injury Prevention Committee. Bicycle helmet use in Canada: The need for legislation to reduce the risk of head injury. Paediatr Child Health 2013;18(9):475-80.