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Mandatory helmet laws effective: study

A new study by Edmonton researchers confirms that helmet laws for cyclists increases the number of adults in a community who use helmets.

The study, which was published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health on Tuesday, compares the number of people in Alberta who wear helmets, with the number of people in the City of St. Albert who wear helmets.

Alberta has a law that requires children under the age of 18 to wear helmets while riding a bicycle, but St. Albert is the only region in the province that has a mandatory helmet law for cyclists of all ages.

The city implemented the law in 2006. At that time, 74% of adult cyclists were wearing helmets. That number grew to 80% by 2010.

Overall in Alberta, only 55% of adults wear helmets while cycling.

"St. Albert’s experience serves as a model for the entire province of Alberta," says Dr. Don Voaklander, Professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta and Director of the Alberta Centre for Injury Control & Research, who was one of the authors of the study. "St. Albert should be commended for their leadership and innovation. In the absence of provincial legislation, the Council took the initiative to protect their community."

"We are proud to be the first and only community in Alberta that took further action on this serious issue. Health and safety remains a priority to council today,” says St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse. “We are delighted that this study reinforces the efficacy of having mandated helmet use, with the result being fewer severe head injuries. While children are our future, we also need to protect their parents and other adults in the community. I encourage other governments step up to broaden the use of bicycle helmet through legislation.”

According to the researchers, more disturbing than the number of adults not wearing helmets is the the belief that bicycle helmets do not reduce severe injuries.

"There is very strong evidence that the risk of head injuries related to bicycle crashes is directly related to the use of a Canadian Standards Association-approved cycling helmet. The proper use of a helmet reduces the risk of cycling injuries to the head, face, and brain by up to 88%," Dr. Brian Rowe, another of the study’s authors said.

Researchers hope that ultimately, the province will see the benefit of expanding to the current law to cover cyclists of all ages.

"We believe that the Province of Alberta should expand this helmet legislation in order to reduce the costs associated with Emergency Department care, and reduce long-term disability and deaths associated with this popular activity,” says Dr. Brent Hagel, Professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Community Health Sciences at the University of Calgary. “In the meantime, we encourage other communities to follow St. Albert’s lead."

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