In what is sure to be a controversial study recently co-published by the University of Manitoba and University of Ottawa, researchers concluded that mandatory helmet laws do not discourage bicycle use. The effects of provincial bicycle helmet legislation on helmet use and bicycle ridership in Canada looked at the association between the comprehensiveness of helmet legislation and both helmet use and bicycle ridership in 6 of 10 Canadian provinces. From the Abstract:
Results. Helmets were reportedly worn by 73.2% (95% CI 69.3% to 77.0%) of respondents in Nova Scotia, where legislation applies to all ages, by 40.6% (95% CI 39.2% to 42.0%) of respondents in Ontario, where legislation applies to those less than 18 years of age, and by 26.9% (95% CI 23.9% to 29.9%) of respondents in Saskatchewan, where no legislation exists. Though legislation applied to youth in both Ontario and Nova Scotia, helmet use was lower among youth in Ontario than among youth in Nova Scotia (46.7% (95% CI 44.1% to 49.4%) vs 77.5% (95% CI 70.9% to 84.1%)). Following the implementation of legislation in PEI and Alberta, recreational and commuting bicycle use remained unchanged among youth and adults.
Conclusions. Canadian youth and adults are significantly more likely to wear helmets as the comprehensiveness of helmet legislation increases. Helmet legislation is not associated with changes in ridership.
The findings go against conventional wisdom and are likely to cause quite a stir in the bicycle community. Prior studies have shown a correlation between compulsory helmet use and reduced bicycle ridership.
*The full study is only available for a fee.