Prof. Kay Teschke and colleagues from UBC have published new research in the Medical Journal BMJ Open.

The gist: mandatory helmet laws don’t help reduce the rate of injuries to people riding bikes.

Writes Prof Teschke:  

Results (from the Abstract):    In Canada, over the study period 2006–2011, there was an average of 3690 hospitalisations per year and an estimated 593 million annual trips by bicycle among people 12 years of age and older, for a cycling hospitalisation rate of 622 per 100 million trips (95% CI 611 to 633). Hospitalisation rates varied substantially across the jurisdiction, age and sex strata, but only two characteristics explained this variability. For all injury causes, sex was associated with hospitalisation rates; females had rates consistently lower than males. For traffic-related injury causes, higher cycling mode share was consistently associated with lower hospitalisation rates. Helmet legislation was not associated with hospitalisation rates for brain, head, scalp, skull, face or neck injuries. 

BtWW.6Conclusions (from the body of the paper):   In our study comparing exposure-based injury rates in 11 Canadian jurisdictions, we found that females had lower hospitalisation rates than males. This difference in injury rates is consistent with other bicycling studies and studies of other transportation modes. We found that lower rates of traffic-related injuries were associated with higher cycling mode shares, a finding also reported elsewhere. We did not find a relationship between injury rates and helmet legislation.

These results suggest that policymakers interested in reducing bicycling injuries would be wise to focus on factors related to higher cycling mode shares and female cycling preferences. Bicycling infrastructure physically separated from traffic or routed along quiet streets is a promising fit for both and is associated with a lower relative risk of injury.

Interestingly, since mandatory helmet laws reduce the number of bike-riding people, such laws would seem to contribute to a higher rate of head injury than would otherwise be the case. Not to mention the loss of health benefits of riding a bike, which are immediate and personal.  Good old unintended consequences again.

And, finally, this graphic, which illustrates the myopic focus on mandatory helmet laws for people riding bikes.  Other common activities result in a much higher prevalence of head injuries, but only a few attract mandatory helmet laws.

head_injury_helmet (1)