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1979, all over again

Hanging around Whistler these days it feels like it’s 1979 all over again. (I turned six in 1979, but I’ve seen enough movies to get a rough idea what it was like.)

People are riding their bikes on our highways and trails without helmets, throwing their garbage on the ground and out the windows of their cars, driving fast cars and big truck, and smoking, in defiance of all common sense and decades of medical research.

Although British Columbia first brought in a law requiring mandatory helmet use in 1996, the Snell Foundation created the first bicycle helmet standards in 1970. The original design was refined about five years later into a single crash model that had light foam on the inside and a hard outer shell.

I learned to ride a bike without a helmet, but by the time I was in grade one in 1979 we had the Ontario Provincial Police “Bicycle Rodeo” at school, and most of us were wearing some kind of helmet to get some extra points. If you earned enough points you could win a new bike.

Most provinces adopted helmet laws in the mid-1990s, requiring their use on all public roadways — long after various public safety campaigns succeeded in making helmets more or less common by the 1980s.

That said, nobody seems to be wearing helmets anymore. Everywhere I go, people are commuting on the highway and Valley Trail without helmets. When I volunteered at the B.C. Bike Race in Whistler, more than half of the riders who rode out to Alta Lake Road to watch left their helmets at home. Worse, I’m starting to see more people on our bike trails without any head protection or any idea what they’re doing.

I haven’t seen such reckless disregard for personal safety since the ’70s, and it pisses me off. People can argue that it’s their life and it’s a free country, but what about my rights as a taxpayer? Do I really have to pay to support these idiots if they fall off their bikes and sustain lifelong brain injuries that might have been prevented with a simple helmet?

I feel even more strongly about the whole litter issue, which has gotten a lot worse in recent years. I’ve been riding the bus and biking the side of the highway for eight years now, and have never seen as much litter around town as I’m seeing today. The entire Village Stroll is speckled with gum, and every village planter is filled with cigarette butts. Our bus shelters are disgusting.

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