Is Nova Scotia’s Helmet Law a Good Fit?


Whether Nova Scotia should repeal its helmet law has been a hot topic in this province.

Should we have to wear them? Are they preventing people from riding their bikes?

Under the current landscape, doctors think ‘yes’, helmets should be mandatory for all cyclists in the province. (Tweet this)

Nova Scotia’s doctors support active transportation initiatives; they’ve passed motions at their annual conferences calling for better active transportation infrastructure throughout the province. There’s a lot of evidence highlighting the importance of active transportation in helping people get and stay active which improves the overall health of a population. Active transportation is the single best option for integrating physical activity into our daily lives.

While our doctors want all Nova Scotians to be more active so they can live long healthy lives, they want people to be active in the safest ways possible. Traumatic brain injury, including concussions, can have wide-ranging physical and psychological effects. Some signs or symptoms may appear immediately after the traumatic event, while others may appear days or weeks later.

The signs and symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury may include:

  • Loss of consciousness for a few seconds to a few minutes
  • No loss of consciousness, but a state of being dazed, confused or disoriented
  • Memory or concentration problems
  • Headache
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sensory problems, such as blurred vision, ringing in the ears or a bad taste in the mouth
  • Sensitivity to light or sound
  • Mood changes or mood swings
  • Feeling depressed or anxious
  • Fatigue or drowsiness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Sleeping more than usual

Moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries can include the symptoms of mild injury, as well as additional symptoms that can appear within the first hours to days after a the injury.

The best way to protect yourself and your family from brain injuries is to prevent them from happening in the first place by wearing a helmet while you cycle.

Helmets reduce the risk of brain injury and should be worn by all ages when riding a bike. There’s significant evidence to support this. This evidence is used to inform the positions of organizations such as the  Canadian Pediatric SocietyParachute, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Some have argued that helmets are a deterrent to some potential cyclists and limits participation, but we know that physical activity of all types has declined, not just cycling.

A number of reports and studies have examined the argument that helmet legislation may reduce cycling rates among children and adolescents, thereby contributing to problems associated with decreased physical activity.

However, an observational Ontario study found no evidence of a decline in cycling activity among children five to 14 years of age after the introduction of bicycle helmet legislation. While there was significant year-to-year variability in the rate of bicycling at different locations, none could be attributed to the adoption of bicycle helmet legislation. A follow-up study showed the same rate of bicycling prior to legislation and six years post-legislation.

Similarly, Canadian survey data indicate no evidence of a decline in adolescent bicycling in relation to bicycle helmet legislation. A decline in the number of observed child and adult – but not adolescent – bicyclists associated with helmet legislation was observed in one Alberta study. This inconsistent effect across age groups suggests that other factors aside from the helmet law may be responsible for changes in bicycling.

We need to look at the overall problem of inactivity in our province and how we can best address the issue. (Tweet this) Getting people active through cycling is only one way to tackle a growing problem.

This isn’t a clear cut debate, so let’s step back and concentrate on the common ground of getting people active and collectively work to make bicycling safer through improving infrastructure.

In addition to helmets, we should invest in bike lanes, increased connectivity of trails, better community planning, and make intersections more cyclist-friendly. The list could go on. The bottom line is that there are many issues that need to be considered before we can have a discussion around repealing important legislation that protects all Nova Scotians from serious brain injury.

Here are some interesting facts about helmet use:

  • Head injury rates among youth between 5 and 19 fell by 45% in provinces that introduced helmet legislation compared with only 27% in provinces that did not (Macpherson et al., 2002). (Tweet this)
  • A properly fitted helmet can decrease the risk of serious head injury by over 85%. This means that four out of five brain injuries could be prevented if every cyclist wore a helmet (Parachute, 2013). 
  • Helmet use significantly decreases the risk of brain injury and decreases the severity of brain injuries that still occur.
  • Laws requiring bike helmet use significantly increase the rate of helmet use and laws covering all ages are more effective than laws covering only adults.
  • Nova Scotia has the lowest rates of cycling related brain injury in Canada. Nova Scotia is a leader in helmet legislation. Currently British Columbia and the Maritimes are the only provinces to have all ages’ legislation in place.

More on Helmet Safety

To reduce the chance of experiencing a brain injury, helmets should be worn when participating in a variety of sports.

Activities during which a helmet should be worn include ice skating, rollerblading, skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding, and bicycling. Activities that require a helmet for safety but aren’t as commonly used include tobogganing, riding a scooter, and horseback riding.

Being experienced at an activity or sport doesn’t reduce the risk for injury. Head injuries range from bruises and concussions to paralysis and death.

What to Consider When Selecting a Helmet

  • Helmets are designed to protect the head and brain from injuries associated with specific activities.
  • Wear a helmet that’s been designed for the activity you’re doing. Be sure to replace your helmet after an impact and after 2 to 3 years of use, depending on wear.
  • Always try on a helmet before purchasing it. Never buy a used helmet as it could have already sustained an impact.
  • Helmets should have side straps that fit in to a V-shape around the ears. Only purchase an approved helmet (look for an ASTM, CE, SNELL or CSA sticker inside the helmet) and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • If purchasing a helmet for a child, make sure it’s the appropriate size. Buy a helmet that fits the child now, not one they’ll grow into.

Want to learn more about helmet use and brain injury?

Brain injury: What you need to know
Bicycle helmet use in Canada: The need for legislation to reduce the risk of head injury
Impact of Mandatory Helmet Legislation on Bicycle-Related Head Injuries in Children: A Population-Based Study


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