The province is proposing to make bike helmets mandatory for cyclists under the age of 18.

New legislation was introduced on Wednesday aimed at improving biking safety for minors.

"In the event of a crash, bicycle helmets can reduce the risk of death and serious head injury by as much as 90 per cent," said Jim Rondeau, minister of Healthy Living, in a media release. "Unfortunately, recent studies show that many children and youth are still not wearing helmets. Our legislation sends the message that helmets are an important part of bike safety."

Officials say 347 children were hospitalized for biking injuries between 2005 and 2009. In addition, 54 kids were taken to hospital for head injuries sustained while cycling.

Rondeau says helmet use went up in other provinces after similar laws were introduced.

The minister says those youth caught without helmets could face a modest fine or some equivalent. Public consultations will take place to determine penalties. However, there will be some exceptions, like on religious grounds.

Over the past six years, more than 73,000 helmets have been purchased through the province's Low Cost Bike Helmet Initiative.

Helmets are mandatory for those under 18 in Ontario and Alberta. Nova Scotia, British Columbia and others require people of all ages to wear helmets.

According to statistics provided by Doctors Manitoba, the provincial medical association, bike helmet laws reduce the amount of head injuries requiring hospitalization by up to 45 per cent.

- with files from The Canadian Press