A call from doctors at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) to make helmets mandatory for all cyclists is being met with mixed reactions on Montreal streets.
“I don’t like mandatory rules,” said cyclist Laurent Moons. “It should be up to everyone to decide for themselves. I don’t like being told what to do.”
The department of adult neurotraumatology at the hospital argues helmets are more necessary than ever as active transportation grows in Montreal. Mandatory helmet rules would help protect all users of the road and curb head injuries by 85 per cent and fatalities by 44 per cent, according to the team.
“Wearing a helmet reduces brain injuries for all cyclists of all ages,” said Dr. Jehane Dagher, a psychiatrist at the traumatic brain injury centre at the MUHC.
Ensemble Montréal, the opposition party at city hall, announced earlier this month that it wanted to make the city safer for children on bicycles by making helmets compulsory for riders under the age of 18. MUHC pediatric surgeon Dr. Hussein Wissanji joined those calls, saying head injuries are a common occurrence in the emergency room.
However, Ensemble Montréal’s motion to make bike helmets mandatory for minors failed at city council this week. The party said it was “very disappointed” and that the city’s priority should be children’s safety.
For doctors at the MUHC, Dagher told Global News the call for compulsory helmets goes beyond city hall.
“We are not playing politics. We’re telling you how it is, what we’re seeing,” said Dagher.
“Regardless of age, the risk of head injury is significant if you don’t wear a helmet.”
A study conducted by Dagher between 2011 and 2016 at the Montreal General Hospital showed that it took six times longer for cyclists who weren’t wearing a helmet to recover among 144 patients admitted to the ER for head injuries related to cycling. There was also a higher rate of mortality among those who didn’t strap on a helmet, the study found.
The move comes as newer forms of active transit, including electric bikes and scooters, take over city streets. In August, local physicians expressed concerns about a bump in emergency room visits.
The proposed measure to make helmets mandatory sits well with cyclist Joanne Lemay, who suggests everyone should get on board. She says it’s an obligation for the safety of all riders.
“It’s really important to get the helmet on the head because there are a lot of cars. There are now scooters,” she said. “And sometimes, it can get very dangerous.”
Another cyclist, who only went by the name Julie, argues Montrealers on bikes shouldn’t be forced to wear helmets and that the city should reinforce regulations for drivers.
While physicians at the MUHC want to see cyclists wear helmets, Dagher says those who choose not to should at least be aware of the risks and consequences facing them. Head injuries from cycling accidents can sometimes require rehabilitation and long-term hospitalization, she added.
“You have one brain, and if it’s hurt, it’s not necessarily going to get back to where it was before,” said Dagher.
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— With files from Global News’ Dan Spector and Brittany Henriques