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Vaughan, children, tobogganing

Let's make helmets mandatory for everyone

By Arthur Weinreb

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Earlier this week, two municipal councillors from the city of Vaughan, the place where Toronto businesses flee to escape the overtaxed grungy downtown core, have suggested that helmets be made mandatory for children while they are tobogganing. The proposal comes after the winter's first major snowfall that saw some serious injuries to children across Canada. Similar laws have been passed requiring that helmets be worn by children when they ride their bicycles.

The province of Ontario expressed no interest in introducing a province wide mandatory law. But history has taught us that what starts as a relatively obscure bylaw in a municipality eventually ends up as a province or country wide law by governments that simply cannot allow people to control their own lives.

Certainly there is no doubt that children can be injured when they tear down a hill at speeds that can reach 35 km. an hour. But why stop at children? And why stop at tobogganing?

Since the January snowstorms, there have been several incidents of tobogganing accidents. It may not be any more than is usual during this kind of weather, but the proposal of the councillors has led to keeping better track of injuries that result specifically from tobogganing. One such incident involved a 3-year-old who was injured going down a hill where there were posted warning signs prohibiting such activity. Since we can assume that the 3-year-old and his toboggan didn't get to that hill on their own, a parent or guardian was present who simply ignored the warnings. Anyone who ignores warnings is not the best candidate to ensure that a helmet would not only have been worn by the child but worn properly. But passing a law is preferable to requiring parents to take responsibility for the welfare of their children.

Another accident that resulted in serious tobogganing injuries involved a 23-year-old woman. If we really care about keeping such injuries to a minimum by requiring helmets to be warn, why limit it to children? A reason for limiting a proposed law to children is that children need more protection because they are "vulnerable". But, as readers of the Toronto Star all know, pretty well everybody in society that is not a rich (ie. makes more than the low income cutoff), white, conservative male is vulnerable; a victim of an uncaring society. Perhaps showing a membership card in the Conservative Party could be a defense to flying down a hill without wearing a helmet.

Of course like riding a bicycle, tobogganing is not the only activity that can cause serious injuries or death. Falls, especially by the elderly who are just as "vulnerable" as children are, are especially dangerous. People who are 80 can't just get up and continue on their way after falling down like an 8-year-old can. And speaking of the elderly, they are just as much at risk from serious injuries from falling in their own homes than they are out on the street. So let's make helmet wearing mandatory inside the home as well as out -- 24/7. And much like the 23-year-old who suffered serious injuries from tobogganing, younger people can also suffer serious injuries from falls. Walking home from a hard night at the local bar is one example where an adult can risk serious injuries from a fall or other mishap that could be eliminated or at least minimized by the wearing of a helmet.

So let's make the wearing of helmets mandatory for everyone, all the time, at home and elsewhere. We are heading in that direction anyway albeit one step at a time. And, of course this can all be justified in the name of keeping the public cost of health care down. In modern day Canada, protecting the state run medical system trumps protecting individual liberty.

Let's just do it; it might even be fun. Helmets could be artistically made the way goalie masks now are. The politically correct can just rationalize the forced wearing of headgear as making a fashion statement.

And with mandatory helmets will come all those helmet police, to go along with the smoke police, the pesticide police and all the other police that we have.

It's only a matter of time.