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Not just bikes: Think about helmets on Calgary’s e-scooters as well

Brain injury has a big impact on the victim, and the support network around them, said Rempel.

The way we move around is changing.

Over the last decade in Calgary, we have seen a sharp increase in cycling within the city. More recently, e-scooters have emerged as a popular way to get around, particularly in the inner-city areas.

You have undoubtedly seen the vast array of e-scooters peppered around the city – an easy way to get
from A to B without much effort. Just find a scooter, scan the QR code, and away you go.

The emergence of micro-mobility, such as e-scooters, e-bikes or even bike-share programs is a positive
thing for our community, bolstering local economies, and providing an environmentally conscious, cost-
effective transportation option where ownership is not required.

Not without challenges, of course, e-scooters can be incredibly useful for anyone, even those with mobility issues.

My own experience living with MS renders me at the mercy of using a cane on occasion. Walking several blocks at a time isn’t an enjoyable experience, yet using an e-scooter as a low-cost method to get to my destination is a breeze.

Of course, I have a particular lens through which I see these new modes of transportation: Safety.

Having seen the effects of brain injury countless times, the elephant in the room in these discussions, for me, is the question “how can people get around safely?” Safety is paramount, and like all forms of transportation, the right measures can help prevent injury.

Casual users on micro-mobility

Oftentimes micro-transportation users are what would be considered casual users. They don’t own the e-scooter or e-bike, the usage is often based on availability, and they are not necessarily a core part of one’s daily routine.

I would venture a guess that virtually no one is bringing a helmet with them to hop onto an e-scooter, despite the fact that they can reach speeds of up to 30km/hr. And from the perspective of brain injury, this can pose some potential risk of injury.

Given the nature of the usage, it’s hard to promote helmet use amongst casual users without a more innovative approach. Companies like Neuron Mobility, who are strong leaders in the micro-mobility realm, provide helmets attached to their e-scooters. It’s an innovative way to give people the option to protect their most valuable asset – their brain – while enjoying the convenience of the shared e-scooter system.

And their advocacy doesn’t end with simply supplying a helmet. They also use their app to incentivize riders who wear helmets, for example, and they recognize and promote the first week of October (Oct 3-9, 2022) as Helmet Safety Awareness Week.

In places like Australia, where municipal shared e-scooter and e-bike programs have really taken off, helmet use is mandatory. In Canada, British Columbia has also included mandatory helmet use in its provincial e-scooter pilot program.

But changing laws is a long, slow process, and there are valid arguments from both sides of the issue. So, perhaps helmet laws aren’t the most immediate solution.

Brain injury impact on support networks

One thing we can’t argue with is the fact that there is no good reason not to wear a helmet. In fact, a major review of bike helmet use around the world from more than 64,000 cyclists has found helmets reduce the risks of a serious head injury by nearly 70 per cent.

So, making helmets available is a crucial step in promoting safety and preventing serious head injury. I know all too well the negative impact of a serious head/brain injury. In my day-to-day work with the Southern Alberta Brain Injury Society, supporting hundreds of brain injury survivors in the Calgary region, I see it. Not only to the person with the brain injury, but to their support networks as well.

Challenges brain injury survivors face include housing stability, poverty, food insecurity, and mobility issues, to name a few. Their support networks become de facto caregivers, and a brain injury can have long-lasting ripple effects on loved ones, friends, family, and anyone else connected to the survivor.

There is no cure for brain injury and the impacts can be severe. In 2010, I lost my cousin, Dan, to a traumatic brain injury. He was riding a bike without a helmet. Since then, I have been acutely aware of the impact of what seems to be a simple choice, which is often overlooked.

Responsible micro-transportation providers are making it easier for riders to choose to protect themselves and feel safer while using e-scooters.

Next time you think about whether to wear a helmet, I invite you to think not only about the impact on you personally, but the impact on those who you love and care about.

Shane Rempel is the Executive Director of the Southern Alberta Brain Injury Society and founder of the
ProHAB Helmet Society which has given away more than 1,000 helmets on a by-donation basis since 2010.