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Helmet laws: British Columbia

Introduction and scope

The British Columbia helmet law came into effect from September 1996. It applies to all ages.

Exemptions apply to children under 12 years riding non-chain driven 3 or 4-wheeled cycles; users of pedicabs and quadricycles; and people exempt on religious or medical grounds (MVA, 1996). Exemption certificates have not always been forthcoming for qualifying applicants, but the court declined to impose a fine in one such case when a charge was brought.

The penalty for not wearing a helmet is CAD 25 plus CAD 4 victim of injury surcharge. For children under 16, the penalty acrues to the parents if aware of the offence.

Compliance and enforcement

There was an increase in the proportion of cyclists wearing a helmet between 1995 and 1999 as shown below (Foss and Beirness, 2000). British Columbia already had relatively high helmet wearing rates pre-law, so some of the increase to 1999 may have taken place without a law.

Proportion of cyclists wearing helmets 1995 pre-law 1999, 3 years after law
Commuter cyclists 60% 75%
Recreational cyclists 48% 74%
Neighborhood cyclists 39% 72%
Community survey 39% 60%
Male 44% 68%
Female 50% 76%

Official data (but source uncertain) suggests that overall helmet use increased from 40% in 1995 to 66% in 1998 before dropping back to 49% in 2003 and then back up to 57% in 2007. So despite the law, many people continue to ride without a helmet.

Anecdotal reports suggest that the law has been vigorously enforced in the City of Victoria and partially enforced in the City of Vancouver.

In 2008 Vancouver police issued 1,823 no-helmet tickets. In 2009 the number was 2,838. Over the period 2006 to 2011, 7,871 tickets were issued (Van Sun, 2012). In 2010 it was estimated that about 55-60% of cyclists in Vancouver wore helmets.

Effect on casualties

The percentage of child cyclists admitted to hospital with head injury pre and post law was as follows (Macpherson et al, 2002):

1994-95 1995-96 1996-97 1997-98
39.8% 32.4% 35.1% 30.0%

The largest improvement in head injury rates was pre-law. The law resulted in no improvement in % head injuries from a year before legislation (95/96) to a year after (97/98) compared with Canadian provinces that did not introduce a helmet law. It seems likely, therefore, that on-going trends rather than the helmet law was responsible for the changes over time. (Robinson, 2003b)

For cyclists of all ages, total cyclist injuries from police attended collisions ( i.e. involving a motor vehicle) declined by 35% from 1995 to 1997 (31% by 1999) (ICBC). Head injuries in these collisions as a percentage of total injuries varied thus:

1995 1997 1998 1999
12.8% 13.9% 12.4% 14.0%

The proportion of head injuries did not change with the helmet law.

In 2010, the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles admitted that fatalities had not fallen since introduction of the helmet law, but still claimed that helmets saved lives. (Private comm)

Effect on cycle use

Controlled surveys of cycle use before and after the law were not carried out. However a survey to measure helmet use in 1999 suggested that the cyclist profile had changed, with around 30% fewer cyclists aged 16 to 30 years, a similar reduction in road cycles and a smaller reduction in the proportion of females cycling. (Foss and Beirness, 2000)

The fall of 35% in all cyclist injuries from 1995 to 1997 (see above) was most likely a combination of general road safety benefits and falling cycle use. Pedestrian injuries fell by 7% over the same period (ICBC). It is therefore possible that cycle use fell by around 28% due to the helmet law.

Benefit-cost

Johns, 2012 found that the benefits of the helmet law would outweigh the costs only if the reduction in cycling brought about by the law was no more than 0.4% (moderate estimate of benefit) to 1.75% (most optimistic estimate of benefit). In practice the deterrent to cycling has been much greater than this and costs have much exceeded the benefits.

References

Foss and Beirness, 2000

Foss RD, Beirness DJ, 2000. Bicycle helmet use in British Columbia. UNC Highway Safety Research Center; Traffic Injury Research Foundation .

ICBC

Data from Traffic Collision Statistics British Columbia. Published by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia.

Johns, 2012

Johns R, 2012. A cost-benefit analysis of BC's bicycle helmet law. Velo City Global, Vancouver 2012 .

Macpherson et al, 2002

Macpherson AK, To TM, Macarthur C, Chipman ML, Wright JG, Parkin PC, 2002. Impact of Mandatory Helmet Legislation on Bicycle-Related Head Injuries in Children: A Population-Based Study. Pediatrics 2002; 110(5):e60.

MVA, 1996

Bicycle Safety Helmet Exemption Regulation, Motor Vehicle Act, 261/96, 1996. .

Private comm

Private communication. .

Robinson, 2003b

Robinson DL, 2003. Confusing trends with the effect of helmet laws. Pediatrics P3R 7 Jul 2003.

Van Sun, 2012

Helmet law may hamper bike plan. Vancouver Sun, 22 June 2012.

See also