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Cyclists deaths raises helmet law debate

posted by SK Brain Injury    |   July 6, 2011 08:19


LONDON, Ont. - It happened twice in one day this week, an unusually deadly toll for this region.

The deaths of two adult cyclists, neither wearing safety helmets, raises the question: Should Ontario's bicycle helmet law -- only kids are covered now -- be extended to make the head protection mandatory for adults?

While it's tough to say whether a helmet would have saved the life of Jonathan Valenta, 21, who died Monday of injuries following a collision on a country road, London police said a helmet would likely have saved the life of a 53-year-old local man who fell and struck his head on the pavement following a collision in the city's east end.

Ontario's law requires only cyclists under age 18 to wear the helmets, so both men were within the safety law.

But the London police point man on traffic safety, Sgt. Tom O'Brien, says he thinks now is a good time to consider amending provincial laws about protective headwear.

"When these laws were legislated, roads weren't so busy -- not as many cars. It may be time for the government to step in and make (helmets) mandatory for everyone like they did with seatbelts, when people said it was (their) choice to wear them," O'Brien said, adding a serious injury can affect anyone regardless of age.

If your unprotected head hits something hard, that in and of itself, regardless of the collision could kill you."

Even if a cyclist not wearing a safety helmet survives a collision, the risk of serious, life-limiting injuries shouldn't be forgotten, warned Ruth Wilcock, executive director of the Ontario Brain Injury Association.

"They could have a catastrophic injury -- anything from having memory loss, to being in a coma or a vegetative state . . . and brain injury is the leading case of death and disability for those under the age of 45," she said.

"Studies have shown wearing a helmet reduces the severity of injury by 88%, if it doesn't completely avoid the injury."

Wilcock said she also thinks the province should consider changing the helmet law.

"It would be helpful if the law would make (adults) wearing helmets mandatory. Some people still wouldn't wear them, like some don't wear seatbelts, but more would comply."

Ontario's bike helmet safety law began more than 20 years ago, when longtime former London MPP Dianne Cunningham -- amid calls from injury-prevention groups -- introduced a private member's bill to make the helmets mandatory. One of Cunningham's sons had suffered severe head injuries as a teenager from an automobile accident.