On Monday March 19, news items reported that Provincial Healthy Living Minister Jim Rondeau was seriously considering introducing mandatory helmet legislation.
Bike to the Future has responded by sending the following letter to the Province and the Winnipeg Free Press.
Yesterday’s Free Press states that the Manitoba Government is seriously considering making it a law to wear bicycle helmets. It remains to be seen whether this will happen or what the details might be. Bike to the Future has neither formally called for nor opposed calls for mandatory helmet legislation.
Bike to the Future knows that a person who hits their head (in any context) will be safer if they are wearing a helmet than those who do not. Wearing a bike helmet is an important way for cyclists to take responsibility for their own safety, as is wearing bright clothes during daytime, reflective clothes at night, and ensuring there is a front and back light on bicycles.
At the same time, Bike to the Future is aware that some people are concerned that mandatory bike helmet laws could have the effect of discouraging potential cyclists, could imply that bicycling is inherently dangerous and something to be afraid of, could impose extra costs on low-income cyclists, and that most jurisdictions have not enacted such a law. It is interesting to bicycle in European countries where many thousands of cyclists ride happily and safely without helmets every day. We suspect that making the roads and bike paths safer for cyclists is the best way to promote cyclists’ safety, although it does not need to be an either/or discussion.
Bike to the Future notes that while the Government of Manitoba publicly muses about imposing new laws on cyclists, it makes no such public statements about other ways to protect the safety of cyclists, and to promote the health benefits of cycling.
Bike to the Future asks if the Provincial Government is concerned about public health in relation to cycling, what is the Province doing to promote more cycling by more people more often? Getting more people cycling more often is one of the best, least expensive ways to improve public health. Instead it appears that the Province’s focus is limited to considering ways to impose tickets on cyclists.
Bike to the Future asks if the Province of Manitoba is concerned about public health and safety for cyclists, then:
- What is the Province doing to create more bike paths to keep cyclists away from motor vehicles?
- Will the Province adopt a formal policy requiring it to analyze opportunities and impacts for active transportation associated with every new infrastructure project (such as CentrePort)?
- Will the Province amend the Highway Traffic Act to define what passing at a “safe distance” means? Twenty jurisdictions in North America have enacted legislation to define a safe distance as being at least one metre (three feet) away from the cyclist.
- Will the Province amend the Highway Traffic Act to expressly require motorists to take cyclists into account and drive with due caution, care and attention when around cyclists? There is an express requirement in the Act for cyclists and pedestrians to take with due caution, care and attention when entering, crossing or proceeding into traffic but no similar express requirement for motorists in relation to cyclists.
- Will the Province amend the Highway Traffic Act to clarify that the requirement of riding as close to the curb as practicable allows cyclists to ride a safe distance away from the curb (at least one metre from the curb) and to allow the cyclist to ride in a manner that makes the cyclist visible and predictable for motorists (rather than weaving towards and away from the curb as hazards, including parked cars, present themselves)?
- Will the Province make it mandatory that driver education courses include a segment on driving in proximity to cyclists?
- What is the Province doing to promote reduced speed limits (30 km/hr) on residential streets, bike boulevards, designated bike routes, or routes for school children to take to school?
- Will the Province announce concrete action to implement the June 2011 report of the Provincial Active Transportation Advisory Group: Greater Strides: Taking Action on Active Transportation?
The Government of Manitoba must not make the mistake of framing the question of public health and cycling as being limited to bike helmets. There are other ways to promote public health and cycling which potentially will have much greater impact.
Bike to the Future is very pleased to read that the Government of Manitoba is concerned about the safety of cyclists. We ask our Government to take a full look at what legislative, policy, and infrastructure changes may be desirable to promote greater public health and safe cycling on Manitoba streets and roads.
Bike to the Future, Co-chair