The StarPhoenix

Friday, January 19, 1996

SP Opinions

Helmets won't replace brains

There are likely dozens of reasons why humans of all ages should wear safety helmets when engaging in activities such as bicycling, ice hockey or even crossing an icy winter street.

However, a couple of recent accidents and the resulting calls for mandatory helmet use give one cause to wonder if officialdom is going to far in trying to protect us from ourselves, instead of letting common sense prevail.

After all, as possessors of rather sensitive melons atop our shoulders, we know full well that making sudden contact with the ground with our heads is a painful experience. Most of us take precautions -- especially when it comes to our kids -- when we engage in any activity that we consider will put the old noggin at risk.

That's the point -- we take precautions when we consider something to be dangerous, not when some official wants mandatory legislation to protect our health, based on one-in-a-million accidents.

A recent recommendation for mandatory use of helmets from a Moose Jaw coroner's jury investigating the death of a bicyclist after a highway accident is a classic non sequitur that does little to buttress the case for mandatory helmet use.

A young Moose Jaw man, who was riding his bicycle on the wrong side of a dark highway, died of head injuries after his bike hit another oncoming bicycle.

An expert on the usefulness of helmets in vehicle accidents testified that there were no guarantee the man would have survived the accident had he been wearing a helmet, only that his chances would have been better.

Of course, his chances would have been even better had he not been riding down the wrong side of a dark highway; they would have been infinitely better had both bikes been equipped with headlights and taillights to help the riders see where they were going and to alert others as to their presence.

While a helmet may have prevented the man's death, the other measures could have entirely prevented the accident.

The coroner's jury meant well but adopting its recommendation would do nothing to prevent a similar tragedy. Adding yet another traffic safety regulation to existing laws does little to protect those who ignore the rules.

The same applies to the Saskatoon public school board's call for a policy review to see if helmets should be made mandatory on its rinks because a Lipton youth died after hitting his head on the ice during a broomball game.

Among extra-curricular events that would be covered by such a policy would be the oh-so-dangerous sport of curling.

Would the school division consider making helmets and visors mandatory the next time a kid playing near the swings in a playground gets bonked on the head or suffers a black eye?

Yes, helmets are useful protective gear that can prevent serious injuries. But making their use mandatory to avoid all real and imagined dangers is going too far.

By all means, educate people on the potential dangers involved in such activities as tobogganing, bike-riding, curling and whatever else. Then let them decide for themselves and their families about taking precautions.

Steven Gibb, Deanna Herman, Les MacPherson, Sarath Peiris, Wilf Popoff and Lawrence Thoner collaborate in writing SP editorials

We are committed to deliver products and services which consistently meet our customers' requirements

"Democracy cannot be maintained without its foundation; free public opinion and free discussion throughout the nation of all matters affecting the state within the limits set by the criminal code and the common law."
-The Supreme Court of Canada, 1938

Additions? Comments? Corrections? Questions? Mail me! I want to hear from you!