Vancouver cyclists say rash of bike helmet fines wrong way to encourage ridership

By Justin McElroy, The Province August 18, 2012

Chris Bruntlett rides his bicycle without a helmet at Trout Lake. Bruntlett is part of Sit Up Vancouver, a group advocating for the removal of bike helmet laws. He has two tickets for not wearing a helmet, and refuses to wear them on the road in protest. – Photograph by: Arlen Redekop , Province

Anti-helmet law advocates are decrying the helmet checks Vancouver police did for two straight mornings last week on the Hornby street separated bike lane.

“It’s a tremendous waste of police resources. There are far more important and effective ways to increase safety,” said Chris Bruntlett, who joined the organization Sit Up Vancouver to push for the removal of helmet laws after getting a ticket last December on his way to work.

“There’s no blitz or enforcement campaign going on right now,” said Const. Lindsey Houghton. “Whenever there’s time . . . they will go down to areas and look for people who are violating cycling bylaws.”

A violation for not wearing a helmet can cost someone up to $100, but Houghton said a fine isn’t automatic.

“It’s the discretion of officers whether to issue a ticket or not. [Violators] are all aware of the law — or at least should be.”

But Bruntlett, who refuses to wear a helmet, said the law goes against the city’s stated goal of becoming the greenest city in the world. He cited studies done in Australia and New Zealand that showed the average number of hours cycled per person dropped by half after institution of helmet laws in the 1990s.

“There are cyclists with foolish behaviour, but I would rather them address people ignoring red lights or going on the sidewalks then what body armour they’re wearing.

“It discourages people from going on their bikes. The worst case scenario is they just won’t bother at all.”

“If their goal is increasing safety, they’re going about it the completely wrong way,” agreed Greg Andrews, a bike courier who said he always wears his helmet during his 9-5 cycling job. He created the twitter account @bikeyvrht to track helmet checks. “The routes they’re targeting are some of the safest ones in the city. If someone’s a smart cyclist who doesn’t want to wear a helmet, they’re likely to take a different route because they know it won’t be targeted.”

No equivalent studies have been done in Vancouver, although the city has agreed to provide $50,000 towards a Simon Fraser University study that will analyze the impact of the BIXI bike-share program.

So far this year 1,112 tickets have been given to cyclists for not wearing helmets, slightly down from the 1,188 given out at this point in 2011.

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