As the debate continues about choosing your hair or your brain, fashion or function, safety or freedom, Vancouver cyclists are facing fewer penalties for not wearing helmets. And most are not paying their fines.
Vancouver Police Department spokesperson Const. Brian Montague reported that officers have issued 585 tickets this year so far for cycling without a helmet. Approximately 257 are from June and July alone.
The number of tickets during these two summer months was half the number issued during the same time period in 2012 and 2013. While this year’s numbers are down, the number of tickets issued in the summer is significantly greater than in other months.
Police officers handle cases according to their discretion.
“Most of the time it does not result in a ticket,” Montague told the Courier in an email. “Often those that get a ticket are committing multiple offences and are riding in a dangerous manner.”
Wearing a helmet while cycling is provincial law. Tickets are a $29 fine collected by ICBC, which will refuse to issue a driver’s licence or insurance if it is not paid. Data run by ICBC last year revealed that only 302 of 1,823 issued tickets have been paid.
Lisa Slakov, co-chair of HUB’s Vancouver and UBC committee, has seen fewer helmets on cyclists’ heads this summer and suggested cyclists don’t like the discomfort of helmets in the heat. She believes changing cycling habits requires more than dishing out penalties.
“It’s counterproductive to focus on a mandatory helmet law for adults and we feel that the energy could be put into time and money to creating safer infrastructure,” said Slakov. “A lot of people know that B.C.’s helmet laws are unusual in the world.”
HUB executive director Erin O’Melinn agreed. “We would love to see enforcement focused on actual dangers of road behaviours rather than what someone’s wearing,” she said. “Provide the opportunity to take education to have a reduced fine so that they’ll be solving the base of the problem.”
Mike Chan, manager of marketing and promotions with Pedalheads, said the bike camp hasn’t seen a drastic increase or decrease in children wearing helmets. But they are taking a stronger stance this year to educate children to wear helmets that fit.
“I don’t think parents are aware that you can’t just put any helmet on a kid and that’s going to be safe,” said Chan, “and not fitting properly can do as much damage as if they weren’t wearing a helmet at all.”
Chan mentioned the importance of parents as role models. Often families can be seen riding bicycles as a group with the children wearing helmets and parents not wearing them at all.
Denman Bikes sells a new helmet with almost every bike and many customers who come in for repairs also purchase helmets.
Denman Bikes’ mechanic Mike Rutter feels more people are wearing helmets for errands, not just for recreation.
Aside from safety concerns, the design of newer helmets is also helping sales.
“It’s definitely a combination of aesthetics and comfort,” said Rutter. “And a combination of being able to make helmets lighter and having better padding inside and looking a little lower profile and not make people feel like they’re wearing a big chunk of foam on their head.”
“When you get older, these are the things that matter,” said Chan. “Older kids… don’t want to mess up their hair, you know? It’s just some of them don’t like how it looks. But I think younger kids care a bit less.”
Chan always wears a helmet but can understand why someone may choose not to wear one. “I guess it’s just having to do with people who like their hair flowing while they’re riding around.”