Editorial: Longboarders need education

Two Island teens have died needlessly in less than a month while they were longboarding. Ryan Thomas Wallace-Tarry, 17, died on Monday in Cedar. Ciaran Martin, a 16-year-old student at G.P. Vanier Secondary School in Courtenay, died on Jan. 2. Both were struck by vehicles and neither was wearing a helmet or lights. The toll on the victims, their families, their friends, the blameless drivers, even the first responders, is devastating

How do we make longboarding safer? There are no quick or easy solutions.

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Riding down a steep street on a wheeled board with no brakes or lights is an inherently dangerous pastime. There is little that anyone can do to make it safer. While a helmet could save a life in a fall, nothing will save a speeding human body that hits a car head-on.

The knee-jerk reaction is often: Legislate. But laws can only go so far in protecting us from our own recklessness or carelessness.

B.C. law requires that cyclists wear helmets and carry lights at night, but how often do we see dark-clad, helmetless figures hurtling through the night on two wheels? Requiring safety equipment is just a partial solution.

Some communities have restrictions on where skateboards can be used.

Ironically, on the same night that Wallace-Tarry died, Oak Bay council was discussing whether to ban longboards on certain streets, after concerns from residents of Barkley Terrace. Councillors asked staff for a report.

Oak Bay has already banned skateboards on some roads, including a stretch of Oak Bay Avenue. Victoria prohibits them downtown, and bylaw officers can confiscate boards.

Victoria’s ban is aimed at people who are using skateboards for transportation and end up in conflict with pedestrians and drivers. Longboarders who seek out steep streets are a different issue.

They are looking for speed. Their conflicts are more likely to be fatal than verbal.

Where there are restrictions or safety requirements, those must be enforced. That’s tedious and annoying work for police and bylaw officers, but far preferable to knocking on a parent’s door to break horrific news.

Dr. Richard Stanwick, Vancouver Island’s chief medical health officer, says we need more than policies on longboards. He thinks it is time to look at the many alternative vehicles on our roads and trails and pull together a set of rules that takes all of them into account.

He points out that skateboards, bicycles, inline skates and mobility scooters are sharing the road with cars and the sidewalks with pedestrians. The rules for each have been created in piecemeal fashion, where there are rules at all.

A comprehensive examination of the competing uses of our streets and sidewalks is overdue. The number and variety of alternative vehicles is only going to grow, and with them the dangerous conflicts.

While politicians and planners examine the possibilities, nothing they do will make our roads completely safe. Nor will it eliminate senseless deaths.

Longboarders, like base jumpers, yearn for the exhilaration of life on the edge. Education, not regulation, has a better chance of inducing them to take some elementary precautions.

Brent Frew, who became a quadriplegic after an accident while working as a ski patroller 20 years ago, has made a heartfelt plea for parents to “put a lid on your kid.” Frew was not wearing a helmet, and counts himself lucky to be alive, even though he is almost completely paralyzed.

As Frew suggests, longboarders who think helmets are not cool should meet him. It would do more for safety than all the laws that politicians could write.

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