The NDP government tabled legislation Wednesday that would require anyone under 18 to don a helmet while cycling. The law will not cover adults, at least not initially.
"We decided as a first step to work with people under 18 and focus on them," said Healthy Living Minister Jim Rondeau.
"We're going to then monitor it and see how we can proceed in the future."
The legislation mirrors existing laws in Ontario and other provinces, but stops short of laws in Nova Scotia and British Columbia that cover adults as well.
Parents of kids who break the law could be fined, but Rondeau said the aim of the law is to educate people more than penalize them. Much like seat belt laws did with driving, Rondeau is hoping the helmet law will convince people that wearing a helmet is integral to riding a bike.
Physicians in Manitoba and other groups started pushing for the helmet law years ago, saying it would reduce the number of head injuries suffered by cyclists.
Dr. Patrick McDonald, a Winnipeg pediatric neurosurgeon, said the law should cover adults, too.
"There's nothing more protective about an adult's skull and brain versus a 17-year-old's. When your head hits the concrete ... the impact is the same," he said Wednesday.
McDonald has seen the damage first-hand.
"Where helmets often make the biggest difference is if you literally just fall off your bike and your head hits the road. It's not necessarily a high-velocity injury but I've seen people die from just that kind of a fall."
McDonald said he treats at least one person a year who suffered severe head injuries while cycling without a helmet. Every time, he has written a letter to Rondeau and the premier's office, urging them to pass a helmet law.
The proposed law is a turnaround for the NDP. The government did not support private members' bills that were put forward by the Liberals four times over the past decade.
In 2010, researchers at the University of Manitoba and the University of Ottawa released a study that said cyclists were much more likely to wear helmets in provinces with helmet laws. Usage topped 80 per cent in Nova Scotia, while only one-quarter of Manitoba cyclists wore helmets, the study said.