The fact that Canadian kids aren’t required by law to wear helmets when tobogganing is enough to make you wonder if Tim Hortons’ new holiday cupemblazoned with an illustration of tobogganers wearing big smiles and helmets—is some kind of political statement.
It’s not, says Rachel Douglas, a spokesperson with the coffee chain. This year’s cup design—available until about New Year’s—was chosen because it fits the company’s longstanding commitment to children’s safety, she says. Helmets, after all, are mandatory when tobogganing at one of the six kids’ camps run by the Tim Horton Children’s Foundation.
Wearing protective head gear before careening—face first in many cases—down the slopes in the rest of the country isn’t. And that is becoming something of a political issue. Medical experts— many of whom are calling on the government to impose mandatory helmet legislation for tobogganing—say it’s taking a toll. Since 2003, at least seven people have been killed in sledding-related accidents in Canada, including two children last January: an eight-year-old girl was killed after hitting a tree near Montreal, and a 12-year-old boy from Gilbert Plains, Man., died after striking his head on ice. Neither was wearing a helmet. Thousands more are rushed to emergency rooms every winter. In fact, every year in Ontario alone, about 1,700 people head to the ER after a sled mishap. About 100 are hospitalized. Broken limbs are the most common injuries after a crash. Head injuries account for about a third of all visits to emergency, says Philip Groff with SmartRisk, a Toronto-based not-for-profit group focused on injury prevention. Groff supports helmet use when tobogganing, but is concerned that it could create a total sense of security. “What we’d hate to see happen,” he says, “is for mandatory helmet legislation to get passed, for parents to rush out to buy helmets for their kids, slap them on their heads and throw them out the door thinking all is taken care of.”
For now, at least, the only place there seems to be a serious push for a municipal bylaw is
ISTIM HORTONS TRYING TO MAKE A POLITICAL STATEMENT WITH ITS NEW COFFEE CUP?
Vaughan, Ont. That’s where Councillor Sandra Yeung Racco, moved by last winter’s tragedies, is working on making Vaughan known for something more than just being the city above Toronto. “Twenty years ago, winter weather patterns were totally different,” says Yeung Racco. “Now, one day it can snow, the next day could be freezing rain. You never know what’s under the snow.” Adding to the danger, she says, is an increasing need for speed among enthusiasts. (Some toboggans can reach speeds of 35 km/h.)
Yeung Racco hopes to have a helmet bylaw proposal covering snowboarding, skating, skateboarding and tobogganing up for debate at council in March. Getting it passed, however, will be tough. Politicians often shy away from legislating activities considered to be good old-fashioned fun by a large segment of the population. And then there are the concerns about enforcement. After all, how much manpower can a city police force afford to have on sled patrol?
Still, the fact this is an issue at all is a major shift from just a few years ago. Before the Bank of Canada released its redesigned $5 bill in March 2002, a focus group of Canadians told it that while helmets made sense on the hockey players in the illustration, the child riding on a sled didn’t need anything more than a toque. At the time, Health Canada was also consulted, says Bank of Canada spokesperson Christian Vezeau, but didn’t express any safety concerns with the proposed design. (Health Canada, at least now anyway, recommends wearing a helmet when tobogganing.) “If we had received such a recommendation, we would have put a helmet on the girl’s head,” says Vezeau, who claims that the bank hasn’t received a single complaint about the illustration since the note was first released five years ago.
Back then, even Tim Hortons seemed a little less concerned about safety—at least when it came to snowmen. On their holiday season cup about five years ago, Frosty and friends were drawn playing hockey without helmets. “They’re more worried about the sun,” jokes Douglas. M
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