August 24, 2001 Features & Images » Feature Story


Head games, part II

Education rather than legislation

The B.C. Brain Injury Association is an umbrella organization for regional groups that assist persons with brain injuries while educating the public on safety issues.

One of their primary campaigns has been to advocate the use of helmets in cycling, and their testimony was key to the provincial government’s implementation of a bicycle helmet law in 1996. B.C. was the first province or state to introduce a bicycle helmet law, although most have followed suit.

The results were dramatic: according to a study by the Brain Injury Association, a bicycle helmet reduces the risk of head injury by 83 per cent and brain injury by 88 per cent. While bicycle helmets were already widely in use and accepted by the time the helmet law was brought in, the amount of people using helmets increased from 46 per cent in 1995 to 70 per cent in 1999.

Although you could argue that the same results could be achieved with mandatory helmet laws in skate parks and terrain parks, Dr. Brian Hunt believes that enforcement is negative.

A doctor’s perspective

"Personally, my feeling is this; as an owner or an operator of a recreational facility or recreational activity where there is a good risk of head injury, be it a skateboard park or ski or a snowboard park, or a mountain bike rental place, I would be insistent that a person could not take part in that activity without the proper head gear," says Hunt, a neurological surgeon at Lions Gate Hospital and a long-time Whistler skier.

However, "I do not believe it should be law, that you should be fined for not wearing a helmet. That’s where free choice comes in. If someone goes out and gets a helmet because they have to, they resent it. They leave it at home, or they don’t do it up properly. When you choose to wear a helmet, you’re concerned enough about safety to do the right thing. You made the right choice."

Convincing people to make the right choices means educating them at an early age. He points to an editorial by a colleague in Calgary as a good example of the reasons why education is at least as important as enforcement.

"The purpose of this editorial was not to provide another review of the literature and then wield the scientific sword in favor of helmet use," wrote Dr. R.J. Hulbert. "As Hentschel and colleagues have already demonstrated with skiers and snowboarders, the evidence continues to speak for itself. Instead, this editorial is intended to focus our despair and frustration over the tragedy that continues to accumulate. Tragedy that we all know can be prevented.

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