Monday, March 29, 2010

Bicycle Helmet Safety


March's mild temperatures and beautiful spring-like weather have opened garage doors across the Capital. Adults and children alike have pumped up their tires, greased up their chains, donned biking attire and hit the open road.

What am I missing? Oh, right. BICYCLE HELMETS.

I am appalled at the number of Ottawa cyclers who do not wear helmets. It truly disgusts me. It is becoming a daily occurrence for me to deal with the following conversation:

"MOMMY!! That man is not wearing a bike helmet!" Thing 1 belts out at the top of his lungs.

"That is SO dangerous, mommy, he could really get hurt and could injure himself and do damage to his head," he adds.

Mental note - kid is actually taking in some of the information I throw at him.

"WHY isn't he wearing a helmet, mommy?" Thing 2 chimes in.

Pause. Deep breath.

"He should be wearing a helmet, shouldn't he?" I proclaim. "Sometimes grown-ups don't make the best decisions, and I think that not wearing a helmet was a poor decision for this man to make."

I struggle to remain diplomatic when what I really want to explain to my three children is that this man, and other adults like him who don't wear helmets, is a #$@*&% jerk who should know better. Who should wear a helmet for his own personal safety and well-being, as well as to be a role model for younger generations also hopping on their bikes and taking to the national capital's roads and streets.

The situation worsens as we see a young girl about eight years old at our neighbourhood park, riding down the bike path helmet-less.

"That girl should be wearing a helmet!!" the three Things exclaim in unison.

"Yes, she should," I tell them. "It is not safe for her to be riding her bike at the park without a helmet."

And since an adult - who I assumed was her father - was within ten metres of her I decided to toss some of the responsibility his way.

"It is also important that a parent checks your helmet for proper fit and makes sure it is on correctly," I add. "A parent or guardian should be making sure that little girl has a helmet to wear."

I work hard to instill in my three Things a sense of safety, a desire and responsibility in them to be careful, play safe, and to follow the rules. I don't appreciate when other members of society decide to throw caution to the wind and make their own decisions about safety. Every time you don't wear a helmet - and my children see you - you are causing them to question the reasons I ensure they wear a helmet every time they ride their bikes, use their skateboards, or jump on their scooters.

It is the law for anyone in Ottawa under the age of eighteen to wear a helmet. Accidents happen all the time, and absolutely no one is exempt from this. I remember with sadness the untimely death of Carl Gillis in 1996. Carl was a popular and well-known leader of Carleton University's student council when I was a student there in the mid nineties. He was athletic, smart, and well-liked. He was a fellow Nova Scotian and I looked up to him as a leader and role model. While roller-blading along Dow's Lake in 1996, he fell backwards on a bump in the path, hit his head, and subsequently died. You can read more on a bill that was proposed to make helmets mandatory for adults and on Carl's death here.

I think what this taught me was that this can happen to anyone. If it could happen to Carl, then it could happen to me. It may not be your fault if another cyclist or rollerblader swerves and hits you, but the potential most certainly exists for you to fall, and hit your head. Head injuries are not pretty (as a teacher and past skating coach, I have seen many), and they can create long-term brain damage, or in the worst scenario, death.

Please wear a bike helmet. Please ensure it fits properly. Wear it all the time. Set a good example for the children in your neighbourhood, and all across Canada, by being a responsible cycler.

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