After almost 30 years, the "B.C. beanie" is about to become history.
As of June 1, there will be new rules governing motorcycle helmets in British Columbia, and so-called novelty helmets – in particular, the B.C. beanie – are on the way out.
Offering about as much protection to riders' heads as a Tupperware cereal bowl, the low-cost beanies managed to slip through the cracks in the late 1980s in British Columbia when – among other things – existing helmet laws were challenged in court by various groups, one of which claimed that a motorcycle helmet infringed on its right to wear religious headgear. Since then, law enforcement has essentially overlooked the beanie, despite the fact that it's common knowledge that they may look cool, but do almost nothing to prevent head trauma in the event of an accident.
The statistics in favour of proper headgear are hard to argue with. According to the B.C. Ministry of Justice, helmet laws – and, consequently, proper helmets – have been found to reduce accident fatalities by as much as 37 per cent.
Since motorcyclists are eight times more likely to be killed and some 40 per cent more likely to be injured in a vehicle collision than other road users, wearing proper headgear is a bit of a no-brainer. If you ride regularly and wear a beanie or skid lid, the only reason you haven't been injured is sheer luck.
Even a relatively low-speed collision can have dire consequences if all you have on your head is a one-centimetre-thick piece of fibreglass. Interestingly, authorities in Italy also recently banned the use of inadequate helmets on scooters and motorcycles.
Unbelievably, some riders in B.C. have even found store-bought beanies to be too large, whittling down their "helmets" to a skull-cap the size of a yarmulke. Other riders claim that a full-size helmet with a front visor and proper padding limits their peripheral vision and deadens road noise so they can't hear what's going on around them.
So what constitutes a proper helmet? First of all, it must meet industry standards established by the U.S. Department of Transport, which Canada adopted years ago, or those established by the Snell Memorial Foundation. This group is a non-profit research foundation whose purpose is to define what constitutes proper head protection "through scientific and medical research, standards development, helmet testing and public education." It was founded after the death of amateur racing driver Pete Snell in 1957, and is recognized by virtually every sanctioned motorsport body in North America, including the American Motorcycle Association, the National Hot Rod Association, NASCAR, the Sports Car Club of North America and others.
Although several high-profile accidents have brought the helmet issue to the fore, law enforcement personnel in British Columbia have chafed over the beanie loophole for years. Says Jamie Graham, former Vancouver chief of police and chair of the B.C. association of chiefs of police traffic safety committee: "We have seen the harm that inadequate safety equipment and poor choices cause. You have to be responsible for your actions, dress appropriately, pay attention and focus on driving."
What happens if you defy the law and ride around with a beanie after June 1? The fine is $138, and if you can't produce a valid helmet, you have to park the bike immediately and go and get one.
There were also some other motorcycle safety regulations brought forward by the B.C. government at the same time the beanie law was introduced. As of June, any passengers riding on the rear pillion will have to be able to "place their feet on foot pegs or floorboards." If you have kids, for example, who can't reach the rear pegs, they can't ride. Ontario has had this law on the books for some time now, and it makes sense all round.
Perhaps the best item to come out of the new announcements by the B.C. government is the news that it intends to move forward with a graduated licensing program for new riders that may include power restrictions and bike size. The U.K., Japan and elsewhere have had this kind of system in place for years, and although Ontario also has a type of graduated licensing program (M1 and M2) that restricts where and when you can ride, it says nothing about the size or power level of the bike.