Saturday, December 13, 2008

Proposed legislation to ban children riding flies in face of proof that it's not a problem

Allan Johnson

Dec 12, 2008

On Dec. 4, the attention of Ontario motorcyclists was on the Legislature for the second reading debate of Bill 117.

Bill 117 was introduced by Liberal MPP Helena Jaczek (Oak Ridges-Markham) in October as a private member's bill to change the Highway Traffic Act to ban children 14 years of age and under from travelling as passengers on motorcycles. It's intended to "protect children from preventable injury."

Jaczek came armed with considerable support. Supporters in the gallery included representatives of the Ontario Safety League, the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association, the Canadian Paraplegic Association and Katie Mellor and Nigel Finan, "representatives of concerned parents who support this bill."

Jaczek produced statistics to prove her claim that there is a serious problem with child passenger motorcycle safety. She quoted Ministry of Transportation road safety reports from 1995 through 2005 that showed there had been 199 cases of injury to motorcycle passengers 15 years old or younger over those 11 years. As perspective during these years, 76,052 children were injured in all types of road accidents.

And the Ministry of Transportation's 2005 Ontario Road Safety report indicates that – out of 5,155 on-road injuries suffered by children aged 15 years or younger in 2005 – only 21 were injured as on-road motorcycle passengers.

Jaczek asked for the Bill to be sent to committee for further consideration "on behalf of Katie Mellor and Nigel and all those concerned with an undeniably unnecessary risk to vulnerable children."

And then, after some debate between MPPs, Liberal MPP Bas Balkissoon ( Scarborough-Rouge River) stood up and addressed the origins of Bill 117.

"I just want to read parts of a letter by Katherine Mellor," he said. "Katherine is in the gallery today. She wrote this letter back in June 2008, to (Transport Minister Jim) Bradley as a parent.

"She says: `In my daily parenting plight, I have recently had a new situation cross my path, which has served to be both alarming and perplexing. To make a long story as concise as possible, my soon to be ex-husband has decided, to my chagrin, that my son Liam (8 years old) should be a regular passenger on his motorcycle.'

"To her dismay, she found that the `only two requirements the Ministry of Transportation in Ontario have are that any passengers need to wear a helmet with a chinstrap, and their feet must touch the footrests. I would like to add that depending on the motorcycle the footrests could be quite high, meaning; even a very small child of 3-to-5 years of age could potentially be a passenger! The bottom line is that children under the age of at least 12 do not truly grasp the ramifications of riding as a passenger on a motorcycle.'

"She goes on to say: `My request to you, Minister Bradley, is that changes to the MTO rules and regulations regarding children as passengers on motorcycles be looked into immediately. Not just the next time the issue is up for review, as it might be too late for my son at that time.'"

And so it seems that the root of this issue stems from a private animosity between divorcing parents. He takes their 8-year-old son for motorcycle rides while she fears for the child's safety.

Whether it's right or wrong for children to be passengers on motorcycles is not the issue. The fact that the vast majority of children who ride as passengers do so behind careful, responsible parents is not considered. The fact that most motorcycle accidents are caused by inexperienced riders is ignored.

The Ontario government is spending a great deal of time, effort and money to debate a proposed bill because two people could not agree on what's best for their child.

Bill 117 has been referred to the Justice Policy committee for discussion.

Toronto Star

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