Bike helmet law scarcely enforced

Getting a ticket for riding a bicycle without a helmet in Whitehorse is comparable to winning the lottery. Less than 20 tickets have been issued since it became mandatory for all cyclists in Whitehorse to wear helmets.

Getting a ticket for riding a bicycle without a helmet in Whitehorse is comparable to winning the lottery.

Less than 20 tickets have been issued since it became mandatory for all cyclists in Whitehorse to wear helmets in July of 2003, estimates Whitehorse Bylaw Services manager David Pruden.

“I know from being in the department for 17 years, off the top of my head, since the bylaw has been in place, we probably haven’t written more than 20 tickets,” said Pruden.

“At the onset we were looking to do it through voluntary compliance and education. So for the first three years we just had officers warning people and whatnot, to make sure they wear their helmet.

“Since that point in time – the last five years – we have gone out and done a couple blitzes here and there, going out on a particular set day.”

Two factors prevent stricter enforcements, said Pruden.

Unlike leaving a parking ticket on a windshield, officers have to confront people in person to collect their name and information before issuing a ticket. Since people can become confrontational in those situations, the bylaw office prefers to have two officers work in tandem when confronting offenders – officers, often just out of high school or in college, that have a fraction of the training (and weaponry) of police officers.

“It is something where people are not happy, so we have two staff members, typically, go out and do that,” said Pruden. “We have run into confrontational situations, so we don’t want to put the officers at risk.”

Also, a lot less ground would be covered if bylaw officers had to partner up constantly.

In the same vein, the bylaw office is largely occupied with dealing with complaints from the public, said Pruden.

“It is a staffing issue; we don’t have a lot of staff to go out and deal with that issue as we are busy with many complaints.”

“The bylaw office works on a complaint basis, so that would be a self-generated thing, dealing with the bike helmets.

“We do have bike constables out there, often solo, so they are issuing pamphlets and advising people to go get a helmet. So there is a substantial effort to issue people verbal warnings.”

Of course, it seems like there are more than enough bylaw officers on the street the moment a ticket is flapping beneath your wiper-blade, but leniency can have its place.

Between 2004 and 2008, the Whitehorse hospital saw about 760 bike-related injuries, breaking down to about 150 a summer.

“Considering cycling injuries are mostly seasonal, that’s a significant number,” said Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Brendan Hanley. “You’re looking at least two to three injuries a day.

“Most studies show the majority of injuries, especially in children, tend to be head and facial injuries. And the majority of serious injuries are head injuries and facial injuries.”

But is stricter enforcement of the helmet law the answer? At least one bike safety study argues it is not, said Hanley.

There is evidence that issuing tickets to every helmetless cyclist can discourage people from riding their bikes, as can a helmet law on its own. However, there is safety in numbers.

“We know that one thing that increases cycling safety is numbers of cyclists,” said Hanley. “The more cyclists you have on the road, the safer the cycling is because more drivers recognize there is a cycling lane – it is something to be paid attention to.

“If you have an occasional cyclist who’s struggling in traffic, that is a relatively riskier situation than if you have a hundred cyclists taking up an unidentified bike lane.”

Another study shows, while the overall number of cyclists may decrease, helmet use increases under mandatory helmet laws, even when scarcely enforced.

“There’s one study that shows that legislation for helmet use increases helmet usage, regardless of enforcement,” said Hanley. “Seems the existence of the legislation might be more important than how you enforce it.

“Obviously the ideal situation is to have hundreds of cyclists all wearing helmets,” added Hanley. “But if you had to choose between one or the other, it would be better to have hundreds of cyclists not wearing helmets than one cyclist wearing a helmet.

“If we focus all our energy on helmets, we might be forgetting about some of the other key (safety) factors.”

Contact Tom Patrick at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Children’s performer Claire Ness poses for a photo for the upcoming annual Pivot Festival. “Claire Ness Morning” will be a kid-friendly performance streamed on the morning of Jan. 30. (Photo courtesy Erik Pinkerton Photography)
Pivot Festival provides ‘delight and light’ to a pandemic January

The festival runs Jan. 20 to 30 with virtual and physically distant events

The Boulevard of Hope was launched by the Yukon T1D Support Network and will be lit up throughout January. It is aimed at raising awareness about Yukoners living with Type 1 diabetes. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Boulevard of Hope sheds light on Type 1 diabetes

Organizers hope to make it an annual event

City of Whitehorse city council meeting in Whitehorse on Oct. 5, 2020. An updated council procedures bylaw was proposed at Whitehorse city council’s Jan. 18 meeting that would see a few changes to council meetings and how council handles certain matters like civil emergencies. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Whitehorse procedures bylaw comes forward

New measures proposed for how council could deal with emergencies

A Yukon survey querying transportation between communities has already seen hundreds of participants and is the latest review highlighting the territory’s gap in accessibility. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Multiple reports, survey decry lack of transportation between Yukon communities

A Community Travel survey is the latest in a slew of initiatives pointing to poor accessibility

Mobile vaccine team Team Balto practises vaccine clinic set-up and teardown at Vanier Catholic Secondary School. Mobile vaccine teams are heading out this week to the communities in order to begin Moderna vaccinations. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Mobile vaccine teams begin community vaccinations

“It’s an all-of-government approach”

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Mayor Dan Curtis listens to a councillor on the phone during a city council meeting in Whitehorse on April 14, 2020. Curtis announced Jan. 14 that he intends to seek nomination to be the Yukon Liberal candidate for Whitehorse Centre in the 2021 territorial election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Whitehorse mayor seeking nomination for territorial election

Whitehorse mayor Dan Curtis is preparing for a run in the upcoming… Continue reading

Gerard Redinger was charged under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> with failing to self-isolate and failing to transit through the Yukon in under 24 hours. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Man ticketed $1,150 at Wolf Creek campground for failing to self-isolate

Gerard Redinger signed a 24-hour transit declaration, ticketed 13 days later

Yukon Energy, Solvest Inc. and Chu Níikwän Development Corporation are calling on the city for a meeting to look at possibilities for separate tax rates or incentives for renewable energy projects. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Tax changes sought for Whitehorse energy projects

Delegates call for separate property tax category for renewable energy projects

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

Most Read