After more than a year of campaigning at the municipal, provincial and national levels, North Vancouver helmet standards advocate Richard Kinar has succeeded in making the issue a priority for the Canadian Standards Association.
Last month the Strategic Steering Committee on Community Safety and Well-being Task Force on Head Protection for Recreation, which was created by the CSA, recommended the creation of a CSA certification standard for helmets used in skateboarding, inline skating, skiing and snowboarding.
Although most helmet on the market have been certified by organizations in the U.S. and Europe the CSAs standards, which already apply to bike and hockey helmets, are generally considered to be among the toughest in the world.
"I cant speak for the CSA, but its my understanding that the four recommendations (of the Task Force) are the four recommendations that the CSA is going with," said Kinar.
Kinar has been an advocate for helmet standards ever since he saw a child knocked unconscious during a low-speed crash while working as a volunteer ski patroller at a North Shore mountain. The child was wearing a helmet at the time, and Kinar was surprised to learn that the helmet in question was not certified by any recognized safety organizations in North America or Canada.
His own son was hit by a car while riding his bicycle, and Kinar believes he was saved by the fact he was wearing a helmet that was certified to CSA standards.
Since he started the Kinar Project to create helmet safety standards for sports like skiing and snowboarding, Kinar has met with representatives from all levels of government and industry to drum up support for the creation of new standards. To date he has been extremely successful getting his message across.
"I think its good for everybody," said Kinar. "Its good for us hosting the Olympics, its good for people taking up skiing, its good for everything to do with safety."
Creating a set of standards will be time consuming as researchers will have to determine what the risks are to the public, make a technical analysis of the existing helmets in use in Canada, and create a standard that the helmets can be judged by. It could be 12 to 18 months before the CSA sets new helmet standards.
In addition the program will require an active program to certify helmets, laws in sport organizations to ensure that the proper head protection is used, and a public education component to promote the use of certified helmets among members of the public.
In Canada, its illegal to sell a bicycle or hockey helmet that isnt CSA certified, and governing bodies for both sports have made the use of these helmets mandatory. The same laws will have to apply to helmets for skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding and inline skating.
"Most of the manufacturers Ive spoken to think its a good thing because the (CSA) standards will put everybody on the same playing field companies that are already making good helmets wont have to compete against competitors manufacturing cheaper models."
Although the CSAs decision to accept the task force recommendations does add a sense of urgency to the issue, Kinar is hedging his bets by soliciting the support of election candidates for helmet standards.
He has found an ally in Blair Wilson, the Liberal Party candidate for the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast riding (including Whistler). According to Kinar, both of Wilsons children are skiers and Wilson himself is a triathlete.
Last week Wilson pledged $500,000 from the Liberals National Education Program to fund a Helmet Standard and Education Program.
"It is important to sponsor this program," said Wilson. "Our riding, West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast, is the recreational capital of the world. Here there is cycling, rock climbing, wind surfing and hiking trails. We are hosts of the Olympics. We must set an example."
According to Kinar, part of the appeal of new helmet standards is the potential to reduce health care costs for treating some head and spinal cord injuries.
"We are coming from the standpoint of good public policy, that there is a direct benefit to the taxpayers with a minimal cost," said Kinar.