In most parts of the world a parent told by the police that their child had been involved in an accident while riding their bike would be relieved to learn that, while needing hospital treatment, they did not suffer severe injuries or worse. What they probably wouldn’t expect, though, would be to then get charged because their offsping was not wearing a cycle helmet.
That’s what happened to the parent of a nine-year-old boy in Canada taken to hospital and later released after being treated for minor injuries sustained when, according to a police release quoted on the website of the Sudbury Star newspaper, he rode into the path of a car.
In Ontario, where the incident took place, “Cyclists under 18 are required by law to wear an approved bicycle helmet when riding a bike on a roadway or sidewalk.” Parents who “knowingly allow their children who are under 16 to ride without a bicycle helmet” are liable to a fine of $60 plus $5 costs and a victim surcharge of $10.
"The male youth was not wearing a bicycle helmet at the time and was quite lucky that his injuries were not worse," the police statement said.
"With the weather improving, more youths will be out on their bicycles." It continued.
"Parents are reminded that they are responsible to ensure that their children and teenagers under the age of 16 are wearing their bicycle helmets."
It is not known whether any action was taken against the driver.
The newspaper reports that some 75% of deaths of cyclists result from head injuries, and cites unspecified research that found that between 1991 and 2002, the number of children aged under the age of 15 killed while riding their bikes fell by 52%.
"This reduction is believed to be related to the use of bicycle helmets,” continued the police statement. “There has not been a corresponding drop in the death of cyclists not required by law to wear a helmet," it concluded.
However, doubt has previously been cast on the link between the drop in the number of children suffering head injuries in cycling accidents and the introduction of compulsory helmet laws in October 1995, four years into the period cited by the police.
In July 2003, a study published in the American Journal of Pediatrics, concluded that compulsory wearing of helmets by children was effective in reducing the risk of head injury among children, with provinces and territories that had introduced such laws recording lower casualty levels than those that had not.
However, a statistician from the University of New England subsequently pointed out that in the case of Ontario, the data provided in the study did not support that claim. After reviewing the data, she concluded that the greatest reduction in casualties came more than a year after helmets were made compulsory; that, she suggested, meant that some other factor was responsible for the downward trend, and not helmet compulsion alone.
Toronto-based newspaper the Globe and Mail commented that the fine the child's parent faces "may seem like a cruel double-whammy," but points out that in Ontario and elsewhere it is the law. It has used the issue as the platform for a debate that has so far attracted nearly 100 comments reflecting a broad cross-section of views on what is in Canada as emotive a subject as it is here.
The reason that it is parents of children aged under 16 who are liable to be charged if their child isn't wearing a helmet is that in Canada, young people below that age cannot be charged with a traffic offence.
We've been unable to find data relating to how often parents are fined for thsi offence in Ontario, but there are reports that certainy in the years immediately following the law being enacted, police there simply did not enforce that aspect of the law because of the time and trouble it would take to accompany the child home and issue their parent or guardian with a ticket.
Although no part of the UK has yet made it compulsory for cyclists of any age to wear a helmet, a private member's bill introduced to the Northern Ireland Assembly earlier this year is seeking to introduce such legislation to the province and has met with opposition from national cyclists' organisation CTC and the sustainable transport charity, Sustrans.
Last year, the government of Jersey rejected by one vote proposals to make helmets compulsory for all cyclists on the Channel Island, but did approve making them mandatory for children aged under 18.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.