Helmet laws for Dummies
Sep 25, 2013 / 5:00 am
All kidding aside, riding your bike without a helmet is dangerous. I ride my bike as part of my daily commute to work and, for years, I have always worn a helmet tightly strapped to my head. It gives me a sense of security that allows me to enjoy the commute and share the road with other cyclists and drivers. However, The Globe and Mail ran an editorial (on August 15th, 2013) that demands adults be forced to wear helmets, similar to the laws enforced upon children.
Now, this is where my opinion diverges. I wear a helmet because I choose to, and I exercise that choice for the sake of my own personal reasons. If another adult decides that a helmet is something that they do not want to wear, then they should not have to. Not at all, not under any circumstances. One disconcerting aspect of our society is the way in which we respond to a tragedy of any kind. We are emotional, we want answers, and then we demand solutions. In the case of Lac-Mégantic, we demanded tighter regulations on the rail industry. With the recent bus and train collision in Ottawa, we are now demanding more signage and restrictions on buses to alleviate the possibility of yet another horrible tragedy.
The instinct to fix such a problem is not necessarily wrong, but it plays into the unfortunate nature of our society as a whole. We are people. We are human beings, filled with contradictions and flaws. Yet, for some reason, we continue to believe that we can institute laws and regulations to 'fix' our flaws and prevent accidents. In the way that President Barack Obama has isolated tragedies for partisan purposes, so too has our society seized these moments to empower the ever-growing regulatory State. We live snugly in our docile and domesticated lives; happy for all the regulations, laws, and signs we've installed to assure our own safety.
The kicker is, specifically with traffic issues, that removing road signs and traffic regulations is probably the way to go. An article in Wired Magazine from December 2004 outlines why: "Several years ago, [traffic engineer Hans] Monderman ripped out all the traditional instruments used by traffic engineers to influence driver behavior - traffic lights, road markings, and some pedestrian crossings - and in their place created a roundabout, or traffic circle. The circle is remarkable for what it doesn't contain: signs or signals telling drivers how fast to go, who has the right-of-way, or how to behave. There are no lane markers or curbs separating street and sidewalk, so it's unclear exactly where the car zone ends and the pedestrian zone begins. To an approaching driver, the intersection is utterly ambiguous - and that's the point."
We have been so molly-coddled in every aspect of our lives, much to our own making, that the signs and laws that are enforced are actually causing us more harm than good. That very same intersection, mentioned in the article, tragically had an average of three deaths per year. After they removed the signs, the number dropped to a whopping: zero.
For children, the rules of the house should of course be the responsibility of the parents. The laws, rules, and signs that are enforced within the family sphere are their own. However, when we grow up and become adults, when we've escaped the house, why is it that we collectively decide to baby... ourselves?
Society as a whole, whatever that is comprised of in reality, has become a very distrustful monster. We don't talk to our neighbours, we are suspicious of strangers, and we assume every driver and cyclist on the road is either out to get us, or perhaps, driving under the influence of something. Caution is always a good thing, that's for certain, and wearing a helmet, to me, is the best decision I could possibly make. But I would never presume to impose my belief onto anyone else.
We are adults, not infants, and should not be treated as such. Because, back in the day, when left to figure things out for ourselves and be responsible, we were. It's time to take back a little bit of responsibility, with the understanding that accidents and tragedies will always, unfortunately, occur.
To summarize, let's head back to that intersection from the Wired Magazine article. This portion also occurs after the signs had been removed entirely: "Monderman and I stand in silence by the side of the road a few minutes, watching the stream of motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians make their way through the circle, a giant concrete mixing bowl of transport. Somehow it all works. The drivers slow to gauge the intentions of crossing bicyclists and walkers. Negotiations over right-of-way are made through fleeting eye contact. Remarkably, traffic moves smoothly around the circle with hardly a brake screeching, horn honking, or obscene gesture. 'I love it!' Monderman says at last. 'Pedestrians and cyclists used to avoid this place, but now, as you see, the cars look out for the cyclists, the cyclists look out for the pedestrians, and everyone looks out for each other. You can't expect traffic signs and street markings to encourage that sort of behavior. You have to build it into the design of the road.'" More importantly, we have to build it into the design of the people. Let's look out for each other like adults and, every once in a while, wave somebody through.
Or we could just try to baby-proof the entire planet.
Read more Practically Politics articles
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- The U.S. Government shutdown Oct 16
- Whose fault is it anyway? Oct 9
- Government corruption is inevitable Oct 2
- Helmet laws for Dummies Sep 25
- Justin Trudeau's political theatre Sep 18
- Civil war in Syria Sep 11
- Telus, Rogers, and Bell are scared Sep 4
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