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To wear or not to wear – Edmontonians debate merits of wearing helmets while cycling

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WATCH ABOVE: Edmontonians are hitting the bike trails to enjoy the most of the summer sun and heat. But there are mixed opinions about whether or not to wear helmets while cycling. Julia Wong has more – Jul 8, 2017

As summer gets into full swing, Edmontonians are heading out to enjoy the heat on the bike trails but there is still a lot of divide of whether cyclists should wear helmets or not.

Under the province’s Traffic Safety Act, helmets are required for anyone under the age of 18 and it is recommended, but not mandatory, for adults.

Don Voaklander, the director of the Injury Prevention Centre, would like to see all cyclists wear helmets.

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“There’s about 8,000 emergency room visits for bicycle-related injuries in Alberta every year. You’re looking at 500 to 600 that have an associated head injury,” he said.

Voaklander said it appears helmet usage is on the decline in Edmonton.

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“If you go through the river valley, there seems to be a lot of people without helmets and we would like to see that situation improve,” he said.

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But Voaklander said there are between six and seven bicycle-related deaths every year in the province and injuries can range from dislocations to fractures to injuries where objects penetrate the body.

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Garrett Clark has been riding his bike his whole life and said he has always worn a helmet.

“If you fell and hit your head, you could die right? That’s the worst case scenario,” he said.

In the last five years, Wayne Truax has been more serious and committed to cycling in the river valley. For him, it is a no-brainer to wear a helmet, particularly because of an experience when he was younger.

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“An older friend that fell off – it was a motorcycle – he was going for a quick ride around the block and his mom told him to put a helmet on. He said, I’m just going around the block. He got around the corner and was hit by a car and passed away,” he said.

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“A helmet doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to be $300. Would you play hockey without a helmet?”

However, Chris Chan, the executive director of the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters Society, said it is a personal choice whether one decides to strap on a helmet.

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“We’re not against helmets, helmet use. If it’s not a barrier for you to wear a helmet, go ahead and wear it. But we really want to encourage people to ride bikes. We want safer infrastructure for people to feel safe and be safe riding their bikes,” he said.

Chan said there may be obstacles preventing people from wearing a helmet, such as comfort, the prices of helmets or simple inconvenience. And he believes it is better, in terms of public health, for people to cycle without a helmet.

“If it’s a question of, should I drive or should I ride my bike, and that helmet is the one barrier that’s keeping people from riding their bike, that’s bad for public health if people choose instead to drive,” he said.

“You will probably live longer and you will be healthier for it, with or without that helmet.”

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Cyclist Glen Kaminski has riding his bike since 2009, and he said he has never worn a helmet.

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“It’s just to find one that’s cheap and comfortable,” he said.

He uses several techniques to ensure he stays safe while out cycling.

“Always be aware of what’s going on around you. Don’t trust anybody. You have to have everything in your vision accounted for – anything can happen.”

It is a similar story for Terry Erskine, who has been cycling for more than 50 years, and has never worn a helmet.

“I was born before helmets came out,” he said laughing.

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