Despite the Alberta government’s decision to forego helmet legislation for ATV drivers, a Liberal MLA is not dropping his decade-long fight for mandatory helmets in the province.
The issue took on new urgency for David Swann, a medical doctor and MLA for Calgary Mountain View, when his 24-year-old nephew was killed on June 10 after his ATV struck a tree near Bragg Creek. He was not wearing a helmet.
The 10-year study found that ATVs were involved in 459 cases of ‘severe trauma’ in Alberta, including 79 deaths.
“He lasted only a matter of seconds after hitting the tree and the ground,” Swann told The Epoch Times, adding that a helmet might have prevented his nephew’s death.
Alberta has had a spate of ATV deaths in recent months. Since May, eight people have been killed in ATV accidents, four of whom were not wearing helmets.
“According to our own provincial data, there’s a 70 percent reduction in injury and a 40 percent reduction in death rate from head injuries if they’re wearing helmets,” said Swann, who worked as a public health officer for 25 years.
Alberta is one of only two jurisdictions in Canada—the other being the Yukon—that don’t require ATV users to wear helmets. The province also does not have a minimum age requirement for drivers. Alberta leads the country in ATV sales, however, and ATVs have soared in popularity in the past decade.
According to a study published in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, ATV sales in Alberta have increased by 50 percent over the past eight years, accounting for 25 percent of all ATV sales in Canada.
The 10-year study found that ATVs were involved in 459 cases of “severe trauma” in Alberta, including 79 deaths. Head, neck, and cervical spine injuries were the most common among fatal incidents, and helmet use was associated with a significantly lower rate of these types of injuries.
Young men aged 18-24 are the most common victims of ATV trauma, said the study, which estimates the resulting acute care costs to the provincial health system at around $6 million.
Swann maintains Alberta’s ruling Conservatives have a history of “ideological resistance” to preventative safety measures. He says the lack of prevention, such as mandatory helmets for ATV users, is adding both pressure and expense to the health system.
“[Alberta’s] health care system is almost totally focused on patching people up after they break down or get injured, instead of getting at the tremendous evidence that’s now around on prevention, and at every level,” he said.
Alberta’s Minister of Transportation Ric McIver has said there are no plans to legislate helmets for ATV users.
McIver’s press secretary, Parker Hogan, said parents, not the government, are ultimately responsible for ensuring young people ride safely.
“I think it’s important to recognize that introducing just the helmet law will not solve the problem of incidents and fatalities. It requires increased personal and parental responsibility for safety when they or their loved ones ride the ATVs,” Hogan said.
“There are a number of things that are already in place, but really, educating and keeping children safe is a role of parents.”
But Swann argues that helmet legislation is key to preventing death and injury on ATVs because it creates “cultural change” and an awareness of the dangers involved.
“The law sets a norm for society—people start to do the right thing because it’s the law,” he said. “The culture of safety and prevention gradually imbeds itself in our consciousness and there are expectations of each other.”
According to a 2008 Leger marketing survey conducted on behalf of Alberta Transportation, 84 percent of Albertans polled believe helmets should be “mandatory for all operators and passengers of off-highway vehicles.”
“It’s disappointing and unconscionable for this government to overlook not only the plethora of evidence that suggests a reduction of deaths would occur through helmet laws, but the prevailing public opinion as well,” said Swann.
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