Cyclists must go extra mile to protect themselves in a crash
Typically it's drivers of cars who are responsible for most collisions with bicycles, but cyclists must ensure they take proper measures to protect themselves on the road — and wearing a helmet is one important step, says Toronto critical injury lawyer Dale Orlando.
Helmets may not protect cyclists from all injuries, but they have been statistically proven to reduce head injury or death, says Orlando, partner with McLeish Orlando LLP.
“Cyclists need to go the extra mile to make sure they’re conspicuous, that drivers see them and they’re following the rules of the road to avoid collisions,” Orlando tells AdvocateDaily.com. But also, if a collision does occur, to reduce the risk of injury, "they need to be wearing the proper safety equipment.”
Bike helmets are mandatory by law in Ontario for riders under the age of 18, and it’s the responsibility of a parent to ensure children aged 15 or younger are wearing head protection.
“Of our cases involving children with head injuries, the majority are from not wearing helmets,” says Orlando. That includes cases where children have a helmet with them but they are not wearing it, he says.
“It’ll be looped over their handlebars or it’s in their backpack because their parents make them take it with them when they go, but they remove it because they want to look cool.”
It's not only children who need a reminder to wear a helmet, Orlando adds.
He points to the Cycling Death Review by the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario, which showed that only 27 per cent of cyclists who died as a result of collisions between 2006 and 2010 were wearing a helmet.
“It’s a pretty interesting statistic — more than two-thirds of the people who died as a result of a cycling accident in that four-year period were not wearing helmets,” he says. “It’s suggestive there probably were other factors as well, but helmets were definitely a factor.”
The review found that the peak age for cycling deaths was between the ages of 45 and 54. A total of 19 deaths out of 129 involved children aged 19 and younger.
Orlando also points to a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1996 that provides “dramatic” evidence on the effectiveness of bike helmets.
“Bicycle helmets, regardless of type, provide substantial protection against head injuries for cyclists of all ages involved in crashes, including crashes involving motor vehicles,” the paper notes.
The study also shows that helmet use is associated with a reduction in the risk of head injury by 69 per cent, brain injury by 65 per cent and severe brain injury by 74 per cent.
Clear evidence shows bike helmets prevent injury, Orlando says, but it’s most important that cyclists and drivers take steps to avoid accidents in the first place.
Orlando used to ride to work 45 km one way, but he now lives close by and walks to the office.
“Riding a bicycle is dangerous,” he says. “The majority of the time, it’s the fault of the driver of the car as opposed to the cyclist, but cyclists need to do their part to make sure they’re abiding by the rules of the road and doing everything they can to be conspicuous.”
That includes proper lighting and a bell or horn, which is required by law, he says.
It also means seeking out and using bike lanes, where available, and paying attention to pedestrians and other traffic.
“Riding safety is paramount. Helmets are obviously an important safety feature, but they really only come into play after an incident has occurred — whether it’s a collision with a vehicle or a loss of control.
“Otherwise, the helmet’s just sitting on your head. It’s really a last line of defence.”