11/01/2013 12:05 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Pediatricians push to make helmets mandatory for cyclists of all ages

Children aren't the only ones who should be required to wear a helmet while cycling, the Canadian Paediatric Society says in a paper pushing for tighter safety regulations across the country.

The position paper, published Friday, argues all provinces and territories should adopt mandatory helmet laws to replace the patchwork of rules currently in place.

As it is, only four — British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island — force all cyclists to wear helmets, and three — Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario — demand it of children.

The rest don't legislate helmet use, though they may have education programs that recommend protective headgear, according to the organization.

"I think it's clear that helmet legislation for all age groups would be positive for all jurisdictions in Canada," said co-author Brent Hagel.

Systematic reviews have shown helmets decrease the risk of head injuries while cycling, with one showing a reduction of 69 per cent, the paper said.

And studies have found the use of helmets went up in Canadian provinces after legislation was passed.

In Ontario, one study showed a 20 per cent increase in helmet use among children between five and 14 years old two years after a law was passed to impose the safety gear on minors.

In British Columbia, helmet use rose by as much as 26 per cent for cyclists under 15 after the introduction of all-ages helmet rules in 1996.

Still, Hagel recognized some adults may resent the imposition.

"There are always people that will say that it's an adult's right to choose whether or not they want to use a helmet but my perspective... is that bike helmets have been shown to reduce injury risk in all age groups," he said.

And children are more likely to put their helmets on if they see adults lead by example, he said.

What's more, helmet laws are much easier to enforce when they apply to everyone rather than a specific population, he added.

Critics have previously suggested that making helmets mandatory might deter people from cycling but Hagel said the evidence on the issue is mixed.

"We definitely don't want to stop people from cycling, we want to increase cycling," he said.

"If there's more education that needs to be done and perhaps more environmental changes to increase cycling, I think that's where we need to look next rather than target legislation for mixed evidence."

The organization recommends other safety measures such as separating cyclists from traffic through bike lanes.

It also proposes tax exemptions or rebates to make bike helmets more affordable.