The Alberta Government has taken an important first step to help protect people from head injuries and death while using off-road vehicles.
On Monday, Transportation Minister Brian Mason introduced legislation that would make helmets mandatory for people who operate ATVs, snowmobiles, dirt bikes and other off-road vehicles on public land, with a fine of $155 for infractions. He hopes to have the new rules in place by May.
However, the new rules do not apply to people using off-road vehicles on private land including farms, ranches and acreages.
Safety groups have been lobbying for years to get helmet legislation. Alberta had been the only province in Canada that did not have some type of regulation for helmets for off-road vehicle users.
Don Voaklander, director of the Injury Prevention Centre at the University of Alberta, says the legislation is a move in the right direction, and will reduce the number of severe brain injuries by 10 and save three to five lives every year.
An estimated 19 Albertans die each year in off-road vehicle mishaps. In addition more than 6,000 people end up in emergency departments every year. Approximately 1,000 of those hospitalized are children.
Some say it should be up to the individual to decide if they want to wear a helmet, but when those decisions have a cost on society and to the taxpayers, the argument doesn’t hold up.
The Injury Prevention Centre says off-road injuries cost Alberta $16 million in direct health care costs every year. The social and human costs are also staggering, with many people suffering life-changing injuries like brain injury and broken necks.
Critics say the legislation only goes part way to reducing injuries and death because it only applies to off-road vehicle use on public land. Mason says it would be too hard to enforce helmet use on private land. He plans to encourage helmet use on farms with an occupational health and safety approach.
Information on the Alberta government’s own agriculture website speaks to the dangers under a headline that reads, “Helmets are a No-Brainer:”
“Wearing a helmet while riding an ATV can make the difference between surviving and ending up dead. Statistics suggest a helmet may reduce risk of death by almost half (42%) and the risk of non-fatal head injury by nearly two thirds (64%)” the website reads.
Those statistics should not be ignored.
“You just can’t force people to do everything you want just by passing legislation,” Mason said.
Yet legislation is exactly what is needed to change behaviours. In 2012 a study by University of Calgary researchers showed that ATV injury and death rates would continue to rise unless safety legislation was introduced.
Veteran St. Albert offroader Mike Waters recommends wearing a helmet even when the law doesn’t require it. “It’s the most important part of your body. Wreck that and you’re done,” Waters said.
St. Albert is already leading the way on the bike helmet front. Bike helmets have been required in the city for ten years. It’s time the province caught up.
Helmet use really is a no-brainer. The Alberta government should make helmets mandatory for all off-road vehicles and bicycle use, and educate people about why this is necessary.
The human and social costs are too high to ignore.