Helmet Laws and Bicycle Use

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.

View the Abstract*

*The full study is only available for a fee.

39 Responses to “Helmet Laws and Bicycle Use”

  • Brent says:

    The “science” is so unsettled as to seem useless. A similar study in 2002 showed marked cycling reductions in Nova Scotia following the helmet law, from 90 riders daily to 34:

    http://www.cmaj.ca/cgi/content/full/166/5/602

    There could also be a “build back” response, with legislation immediately reducing cycling, but then natural population growth and other factors leading back to the numbers from before.

  • Gussy says:

    It is a very controversial area that is for sure. My stance is more bikes, safer streets. I’m not sure if the study looked at the health effects of cycling or anything else other than just helmets. I would really like to get the report to be able to judge the report fairly.

    Also the information that they used is from the last census which was quite a long time ago, seeing were having another one next year.

    If anyone does manage to get a copy of the report, i’m sure it will be gobbled up by the biking public. 20 pound for a report seems steep to me.

  • rick says:

    I’m not really surprised by this at all: the optimal words used in the conclusion is “Canadian youths”. As anyone who has spent any time up north will attest to, the Canadians tend to be a bit more tolerant of laws that encourage safety, regardless if it’s due to statistics or not; whether this has to do with their having socialized medicine (which may discourage recklessness due to increased medical costs borne by their fellow citizens) or not, I don’t know.

    One way or another, I don’t think this study is a “game changer” for those of us on the more, shall I say, libertarian side of the argument.

  • bongobike says:

    As I was just commenting on a different blog, I don’t know what the discussion is like in other countries, but I think the helmet controversy in the U.S. reflects an American uptight, preachy, black & white, good/bad, rules-oriented, I’m-gonna-lay-down-the-law kind of an attitude that permeates much of our behavior. It’s no different from the rantings displayed in comments to news stories on the net about science (especially evolution), or abortion, taxes, gun control, you name it. Most people who get involved in these arguments know next to nothing about the subject and merely express an emotional conviction that they are “right”. It’s all about fear and manipulation.

  • jwp says:

    Every time I hear all this back and forth about helmets, it reminds me of the arguments that were put forth regarding seatbelts. “Its more dangerous to wear a seatbelt..you might not be able to get out fast enough, or it will choke you…etc, etc”. (See http://socyberty.com/law/buckle-off-argument-against-seatbelt-laws/).

    I still don’t buy the reduction in ridership with helmet laws. In British Columbia helmets are the law for all riders (as opposed to just U18 in Alberta)…ridership there has exploded. New bike lanes in Vancouver and Victoria as well as many other ‘bike-friendly’ initiatives have helped drive this increase, but having the law hasn’t seemed to hurt. Of course, no one wants to wear a helmet, but I want to ride my bike more than I don’t want to wear a helmet! At the end of the day, people will rationalize and make excuses for anything…’the reason i don’t ride my bike is because i have to wear a helmet’…when really they are just saying..’i don’t ride my bike because i’m lazy/cold/tired/out-of-shape/rather watch TV/etc”.

  • rick says:

    @Bongobike:

    I couldn’t agree more, and if you ever decide to run for office, will you let me know? I’ll vote for you! :-))

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    “Following the implementation of legislation in PEI and Alberta, recreational and commuting bicycle use remained unchanged among youth and adults.”

    Well this page says pretty much the opposite:

    “Surveys in Edmonton in 2000 (pre-law) and 2004 (post-law) suggest that cycling by children and teenagers has been significantly reduced compared with adults (59% children, 41% teenagers)”
    Helmet Laws: What has been their effect?

    They have summarized data on the effect of helmet laws on bicycling levels for a number of countries and jurisdictions.

  • Saddle Up says:

    We’re in the biggest bicycling boom since the eighties, in our store ($5+million annual sales) it’s rare for a new cyclist regardless of their age to also not buy a helmet. Our best selling helmet by a huge margin is the $50 Giro Indicator. Out on the streets it’s the odd rider that’s not wearing a helmet that looks out of place.

  • rick says:

    @jwp:

    I’m car-free, ride about three thousand miles a year, and I don’t wear a helmet because I don’t see the need for one; I’m an ER nurse, and of the hundred or so of bike accidents I’ve seen over the last eighteen years, I’ve seen only a couple where a helmet would have made a difference, as opposed to the many hundreds of times where I personally saw where seat belts saved someone’s life.

    I appreciate what you’re saying, but let’s remember that on a bike, the vast majority of people never see more than 12 mph, and never race; in a car, let’s just say it’s much more than that. What I’d like you to explain to me is why, even though they’ve been proven to save a life in some circumstances, is why we don’t require people to wear a helmet when they drive? I would imagine it’s because of the same reasons we shouldn’t require people to wear them while riding: the very few times where one is needed can’t offset the vast number of times where one is not, and we should accept the tradeoff. In the meantime, I truly believe that helmet laws are just a matter of scaring the hell out of people in order to get them to buy something they don’t need in order to increase sales of both the manufacturer and the seller: if helmets were truly needed, why don’t the European countries require them?

  • Roland Tanglao says:

    What rick said. I don’t think data where only 2% of the population bicycle on a regular basis as part of their life is relevant. I think data from AMS, CPH, Japan, Germany, etc where a lot more people ride without helmets is relevant.

  • CedarWood says:

    Are we interested in lowering the incidence of vehicle/bike accidents, or prevention of injury when those accidents do occur?

    A helmet won’t prevent an accident, although it may lessen the extent of injuries to the head. Conversely, an orange vest goes a long way towards preventing accidents entirely, but does nothing for injuries.

    If laws are necessary to make cycling safe, let’s have an ‘orange vest’ law instead, helmets optional according to rider discretion.

    Laws aside, increasing bicycle infrastructure would likely have the greatest impact on both ridership and safety. So why do we spend time and money doing studies on helmet laws and their results?

  • RDW says:

    I wonder whether this study (or any of the contrary studies mentioned in this discussion) take in to account other factors which may be increasing/decreasing bike ridership, such as rising/lowering gas prices and improved cycling infrastucture. I don’t live in an area with mandatory helmet laws but it’s hard to imagine many cyclists here paying attention to such laws if we did have them. And harder to imagine our already overburdened police trying to enforce them.

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    Here are two studies from Denmark and The Netherlands which show that adult everyday cyclists live longer, even though hardly anyone there wears helmets.

    Ugeskrift for Læger: Dødelighed associeret med fysisk aktivitet i fritiden, på arbejdet, sport og cykling til arbejde
    The men and women who rode a bicycle to work had a 39% lower risk of mortality after multivariate adjustment including leisure time physical activity.

    Do The Health Benefits Of Cycling Outweigh The Risks?
    For the individuals who shift from car to bicycle, we estimated that beneficial effects of increased physical activity are substantially larger (3 – 14 months gained) than the potential mortality effect of increased inhaled air pollution doses (0.8 – 40 days lost) and the increase in traffic accidents (5 – 9 days lost).

  • bongobike says:

    @rick,

    Given my dislike of politics and politicians, I doubt I will ever be running for anything. But it’s good to know I have your support. :-)

  • MJS says:

    My problem with mandatory bicycle helmet laws is that once they are in place (the legislation usually originating with pro-car people), the then people tend wash their hands of any other legislation that would improve bicycle safety, as if to say “Well, we’ve done our part by making bicyclists wear helmets and don’t have to worry about infrastructure, driver training, or insurance.”

    On the mean streets of North America, helmet use is a good idea, but only because nobody wants to invest the money into Dutch/Danish style infrastructure that would make helmets superfluous.

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    It’s often said that more bike paths would make bike helmets unnecessary. I guess the assumption is that a helmet is useful if you get run over by a car driver. I don’t agree with that assumption, essentially because a styrofoam hat won’t protect you from a ton of steel. I can back it up with this graph from New Zealand, showing helmet-wearing against head injuries following car crashes:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Adult_cyclist_head_injuries_versus_helmet_use_in_New_Zealand.svg

  • Sean says:

    I hate this debate – it goes nowhere and solves nothing. On top of that, it deflects attention away from what really should be talked about – slower speeds for cars and better infrastructure for bikes.

    le sigh.

  • Rex says:

    If North America is indeed “in the biggest bicycling boom since the eighties” (and I think that’s a reasonable claim), and bicycle usage remains unchanged where helmet laws exist, that would suggest a correlation between helmet laws and less bicycle usage. IANAS (I am not a statistician), however, so don’t ask me to infer anything deeper than that.

    I generally wear a helmet but I would personally be really bummed out if the state decided I was no longer capable of making that decision for myself. I’m ambivalent about helmet laws for kids—we place lots of restrictions on minors that don’t apply to adults, but all these precautions are not the way I remember childhood. I was 17 when I saw my first bike helmet (not counting hair nets), owned by a friend who wore it only for races. I remember it was expensive and we were like “wow it’s just this hard foam that gets crushed on impact”, but we were pretty impressed nonetheless.

    My only real crash in recent memory was while mountain biking and my helmet definitely saved the side of my head from getting scraped up, but it wouldn’t have been life threatening without it. That may be an area of helmet benefit that is rarely explored as studies seem to concentrate on crashes resulting in death or E/R treatment.

  • Richard Masoner says:

    It appears the study designers might have an agenda — they started with a conclusion (“bikes are dangerous” and “we need helmet legislation”) and worked their way back from there.

  • rick says:

    @Sean:

    I understand, and yes–it does seem pointless on the face of it–but as long as it’s an issue that’s debated legislatively, then it’ll keep being debated amongst riders.

    P.S.: Your shop looks wonderful! Keep up the good work!

  • Pete says:

    I’m all for mandatory helmet laws – for cars.
    Can you imagine how many lives would be saved and how much money society would save if everyone in a car had to wear a helmet? It’s staggering, compared to the miniscule bicycle issue, really.
    While we’re at it, fireproof suits and six-point safety harnesses should be required too.

  • Supp Suppinger says:

    All car drivers should wear helmets. It would surely increase their safety! And pedestrians as well! The solution is here: http://tinyurl.com/ppuevr

  • charles says:

    What about all the people who didn’t respond because they don’t ride any more or never will due to the helmet law? Statistics can be manipulated in any direction. In my experience, less people ride because they don’t want a ticket for not wearing a helmet and don’t want to wear one when riding so they don’t ride. I’ve had several non riders mention it in casual conversations. I won’t wear a helmet in hot weather while climbing because I can’t stay as cool when I wear one and am more concerned about passing out from heat stroke making the need for a helmet ( at a measly 5-12 mph necessary) not that it would do much good since I out weigh the effectiveness of a helmet by 125 pounds falling from one meter at these speeds.

  • Garth Madison says:

    Fatalities are rarer on bikes in general because of the lower speeds. If you get crunched correctly by a car, you’re toast whatever you’re wearing. However, a helmet will diminish injury from less severe crashes, as will appropriate clothing – e.g., pants minimizing road rash. Motorcycles are much more dangerous because of the speeds, and arguably if you crash at highway speeds you’re brain dead whatever you’re wearing, but most places still require helmets, because they afford at least some minimal protection. In the case of bicycles, the helmet is still your last line of defense, and you’ll sure miss it if you end up needing it.

    I broke my clavicle and got pretty scraped up last month being cut off by a car and hitting the pavement, but my helmet saved a more serious head injury. Whether or not it would have been fatal or caused permanent brain damage, despite not involving hitting the car, is a question I’d rather not answer through experimentation. Anecdotal and thus of limited use, but the point is that our heads are a long way from the pavement, at any speed, and are our most vulnerable spot. Based on my experience, I most strongly recommend wearing a helmet whenever you ride. Bike helmets are cheap, so I really do not see the reason for the fuss. Our laws mandate clothing, too, and I think increased safety, even in limited instances, is more important than decency. The $20 helmet will be a lot cheaper than the medical bills, and is insignificant compared to the cost of safety equipment on a car. Besides, if not for the helmet, I’d be wearing a hat for the sun and/or the cold anyway.

    Of course, since my accident I’ve been contemplating a full suit of armor. Maybe a carbon bike would make up for the weight of the steel?

    Garth-

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    Garth, I hope you’re better now.

    “my helmet saved a more serious head injury”.

    Allow me to quote from cyclehelmets.org:

    “A helmet saved my life!”
    Many people who wear helmets can relate their experience of a crash which leads them to believe that a helmet ‘saved their life’. This is a very common experience – very much more common, in fact, than the actual number of life-threatening injuries suffered by bare-headed cyclists. Yet there is no evidence that helmets save lives or prevent serious injury at all across cyclists as a whole.

    For example, in the state of Western Australia where bicycle helmets have been mandatory for all ages since July 1992, the annual cyclist death toll from 1987 to 1991 (pre-law) averaged 7.6 fatalities per year. From 1993 to 1997 (post-law) it was 6.4 fatalities per year, representing a 16% reduction. However, Government cycling surveys show cycling declined in Western Australia by approximately 30% during the 1990s following mandatory helmet law enforcement. Thus, relative to cycle use, fatalities went up, not down.

    End quote.

    If you haven’t read this article, it might be worth a look.

  • Garth Madison says:

    Studies comparing the use of helmets in American football to the lack of helmets in Australian rugby actually demonstrate that helmet use increased the number of serious injuries in the states. The theory is that American football players are more willing to run full tilt into another player, because they are wearing a helmet and pads to absorb the blow. Australian rugby players, with less protective equipment, are more careful in collisions. I doubt this is a factor for most transportation cyclists, who are not trying to collide with anything, or race around all that fast to start with.

    Certainly an increased number of cyclists on the road reduces the number of injuries by altering the behavior of motorists. However, the article Alan cites calls into question the causal link between helmet laws and the number of cyclists. It seems to me that the number of transportation cyclists is so minimal that either having or not having helmet laws will have no significant effect. There are too many other significant obstacles to cycling at the moment, like the lack of reliable infrastructure.

    As for me, I’m doing a lot better now, thanks, and am back on the bike. The point of my story wasn’t to claim that the helmet saved my life, though. My point was that, like most cyclists, my life was not in danger, but that wearing a helmet still minimized my injuries and made my accident a much cheaper and less painful experience. When we’re talking about automobile safety, we are more often talking about the prevention of fatalities (though when you’re hit at an angle, your survival is more dependent on the luck of whether your heart happens to be on the lub or the dub). When we are talking about motorcycle safety, we really mean that nothing can prevent fatalities, and riding a motorcycle carries massive, unavoidable risk. When we talk about bicycle safety, we are talking about preventing or minimizing non-fatal injuries. With a broken clavicle, I was at work 30 minutes after crashing (though in retrospect, I should have gone into the ER I crashed outside of with the very nice nurse who kindly stopped to help me). I could type fine, and do most of my daily activities while I healed, except lift things with one hand. With a concussion and head injury, even if not fatal, I would have been much worse off for much longer. And the shoulder xray was a lot cheaper than the mri would have been!

    Nowhere in my post do I contend that I would have died had I not been wearing my helmet, though I’m rather partial to my head (just ask my wife) and am just as glad not to know for certain what a bare headed crash can do to you. Look at the difference between your quote from my post and your quote from cyclehelmets. However, avoiding the non-fatal injury a bare headed cyclist would have sustained is very important to me, and well worth the $20 helmet. I have the dents and scrapes on the helmet to suggest what my head would have looked like if I’d driven it into the pavement going 23 mph downhill. That’s compelling enough reason for me, without the need to overdramatize a hypothetical injury. In fact, the road burn I suffered all the way down to my ankle has me wearing more protective clothing now, even in the summer heat. I just do not see the fact that the injury I am avoiding would not have been fatal as an argument to not mandate bike helmets. And I think that, unfortunately, there are a lot bigger obstacles to getting more cyclists riding. Since we have such dismal ridership numbers in this country, with no helmet laws, it seems silly to argue against helmet laws on the basis of reduced ridership. For my part, I replaced my helmet immediately (same brand, Schwinn Thrasher, $20 from amazon, since it was so cheap and worked so well), and promised myself and my wife that I would never ride without it. If others choose to ride unprotected, they are welcome to describe to me exactly what kind of non-fatal injury a bareheaded rider sustains if they ever have the misfortune of finding out!

    Garth-

  • Robert says:

    A bicycle helmet does not need to just save your life to be effective, as that little bit of impact absorption goes a long way toward preventing traumatic brain injury. Also, even if you do not believe in the effectiveness of helmets, if you are in an accident and wind up in court you are a lot less likely to be found negligent if you were wearing a helmet, as unfair as that might sound.

    I think that mandatory helmet laws for adults are over-reaching, but there are still a lot of good reasons to wear one. However, an expensive helmet is not necessarily safer than a cheaper model, and often less so because it is lighter and uses less foam.

    @Erik Sandblom “Yet there is no evidence that helmets save lives or prevent serious injury at all across cyclists as a whole.”

    I find that there is actually a lot of evidence but it is complicated and inconclusive (www.helmets.org/stats.htm). However, even without a scientific consensus I still choose to wear one for the majority of my bike trips.

  • Mike says:

    I heard a piece on this study on CBC Radio last week (in Winnipeg). I was immediately suspicious, as the author of the study who was interviewed was clearly an advocate for helment laws. He made the typical claim that helmets reduce head injuries by 80%; I assume he’s referring to the 1989 case-control study that can be generously referred to as “questionable”. The interview was not long enough for him to explain the methods used in the study, but I wonder how the investigators controlled for other factors that effect cycle usage. For instance, the number of cyclists could stay constant, but they could take fewer trips because they don’t want to mess up their hair with a helmet. Another issue is enforcement: did the police actually enforce the helmet laws, as in Australia? Previous Canadian investigations into the matter found that cycle use was unaffected by helmet laws, but that there was no enforcement of those laws. He also stated that the belief that cycle use is diminished by helmet laws “is not supported by the data” — effectively dismissing all of the other research that has been done on the topic. It is not reasonable to make these claims without offering some explanation for the findings of the Australian study. I wonder who funded this research.

    One other point to be made is that it seems obvious that wearing a helmet would be safer than not doing so, but this is not so clear, since the helmet effectively increases the size and weight of the wearer’s head. Scratches and dents in a helmet after a crash do not necessarily demonstrate that the wearer’s head would have sustained any injury (or even impact). The authors of this study have pre-supposed that helmet use will result in lower injury rates, but their study has no such findings. They also are not promoting any other legislative measures that might protect cyclists, such as the “three feet to pass” law now being adopted in many places.

    The rather slanted article from the Winnipeg Free Press reminds me that they recently published a letter suggesting that bicycling should be banned in winter…

  • Vik says:

    I live in a Canadian province with a mandatory helmet law for cyclists and I know just this summer we’ve aborted a number of potential bike rides because we had enough bikes, but not enough helmets for everyone.

    Eventually we just stopped bothering with the helmets and gave up on the law.

    What I’d be interested in is seeing if there is any reduction in serious head injuries in Provinces with mandatory helmet laws and those without. If there are not than you have to wonder what the point of the law is.

  • Michael says:

    I believe it should be left up to the ADULT cyclist as to wear or not to wear a helmet. Children should be mandated simply because they’re children. I’ll not argue to the efficacy of helmets as it’s truly counterproductive. Do I wear one? :-)

  • No says:

    It should be left up to Adults to decide for themselves and their children!

    While I can see the arguments for children wearing helmets may well be different (slower speeds, less traffic riding, more risk taking, less experience – i.e. a better match for the helmet capabilities and more likely to have a tumble), I still believe there should be no MHL for children, let the parents decide.

  • Michael says:

    The reason I believe children should be made to wear one is the invincibility syndrome. C’mon you remember when that kinda stuff only happened to other people? This is a volatile subject and suffers from emotional involvement so there’s no real answer. Just opinions and a bunch of those.

  • Study: Helmet laws & bicycle use » Cyclelicious says:

    […] Alan @ EcoVelo points me to a study recently published in the journal Injury Prevention showing that provincial helmet laws have no impact on bicycle ridership in Canada. […]

  • EcoVelo » Blog Archive » Cyclelicious Interviews Helmet Study Author says:

    […] Michael in Helmet Laws and Bicycle Use: "The reason I believe children should be made to wear one is the…" […]

  • Lovard says:

    I recall seeing a study years ago (I can’t find it but it was from the UK) which showed cyclists wearing helmets were more likely to collide with a motor vehicle than those who do not. The study found that car drivers were more likely to pass closer to a cyclist wearing a helmet than one who was not. It suggested car drivers were more likely to pass closer to those they felt less risk of killing! Also cyclists wearing helmets were more likley to take risks for the same reason…Not sure if that is accurate, I always wear a helmet and always have. I’m often passed very closely (where I am forced to swerve/brake to avoid a collision), but I think that is more likely an indication of the (lack of) skill/care/awareness of many drivers than a reflection of the the relative safety they perceive of my helmet wearing?

    I live in Australia near Sydney (Newtown), we have had compulsory helmet laws for as long as I can remember, fixie bicycles are fast becoming the must have fashion accessory, and until recently very few of the fixie riders wore helmets. But it is becoming more common for the fixie riders to wear helmets too, perhaps not for safety so much as a fashion accessory, all the cool kids are getting about with helmet hair and helmet in hand, blinged up fixie parked proudly on the street!

    I’ve never seen police chatting to anyone for not wearing a helmet (generally have more important things to do). Most of the commuter cyclists wear helmets and practically all the sport riders wear them. While the law is rarely, if ever enforced, I’m sure if I was injured not wearing one, any compensation would be small because of my contributing negligence, not sufficiently protecting myself.

    As a regular visitor to Denmark (Danish Wife), I can see why Denmark would be less likely to need to protect cyclists, It’s not just the vast array of separated cycleways but rather the general awareness, acceptance and indeed expectation that cyclists will be sharing the road with cars and drivers MUST be aware of them and make room for them and they do. As a cyclist if you ride with that expectation in Sydney, you will end up in a hospital – helmet or not! But even there people are beginning to embrace helmets http://yakkay.com have made a business of it, making helmets for the fashion conscious (not the unconscious!).

    Going from Australia to Denmark is an easy transition for a cyclist, but harder for a driver… Going from Denmark to Australia is easy for a driver but hard for a cyclist (ask my wife!), the expectations are reversed but you can get away without being injured in a car, less so on a bicycle.

    It is getting better in Sydney, the huge boom in cyclist numbers means more drivers are aware of cyclists and a cyclist can be more comfortable sharing the road with cars than he/she could have just a couple of years ago. however, it only takes on ignorant/careless driver to cause a huge injury.

    In my view it’s infrastructure and driver awareness that saves cyclists collisions and injuries, but helmets go some way to minimising the impact of a head injury, I value my head so I wear one, I also value my skin so I also wear gloves, I realise I’m not as visible as other road users so I generally wear a high visibility vest and always use lights (www.reelight.com amazing!) at night. I fail to see how any level of cushioning will do anything other than minimise an impact (not to mention abrasion) to my head, a helmet which complies with set (mandatory in Australia) standards, even more so.

    Basically helmets are cheaper and burden the cyclist rather than the governments, it’s the easy option for any government. Until there is political will to change that, nothing will happen and we all know there is no political will until it is a vote winner for the politicians (ah democracy!). Educating the average person the benefits of cycle infrastructure to the whole community may change that, but it will most probably take some time. Even harder for those of you in the US until you get public healthcare. When the health and welfare of the community can be costed by accountants….. well money talks, when there is a cost benefit to peoples health (and environment and resource consumption) in lower dependency on cars, political will shifts to make things happen. But that is another debate, I expect!

    On that note, I wish you all safe journeys and thanks to all the contributors to this my favorite blog!

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    It’s worth noting that this study appears based on a telephone survey, not traffic counts. Studies based on traffic counts show that helmet laws reduce cycling, but many traffic counts are sketchy. I think it’s unfortunate that the funding goes to more studies instead of reliable traffic counts.

    Helmet Laws: What has been their effect?

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    Road.cc ran an interesting helmet story last spring [1]. A hospital study from Austin found that alcohol had a stronger correlation to head injury than helmets [2,3]. An earlier study showed that sober cyclists are seven times as likely to wear helmets [4,5]. Since hospital studies generally show that cyclists with helmets have fewer head injuries, it’s possible that the studies have confused helmet use with being sober.

    Furthermore, some hospital studies show that helmets protect the face almost as much as the rest of the head [6], which is notable because helmets don’t cover the face.

    So my hypothesis is that sober cyclists simply protect their heads reflexively, and the protective effect of helmets might be incidental.

    [1] Road.cc: Bike helmet activist’s own study finds no significant benefit in wearing one

    [2] Alcohol, bicycling, and head and brain injury: a study of impaired cyclists’ riding patterns

    [3] Bicycle helmets benefits might be overestimated DL Robinson.

    [4] Bike Riding And Alcohol: A Lethal Combination

    [5] Use of Alcohol as a Risk Factor for Bicycling Injury

    [6] Cochrane Review: Helmets for preventing head and facial injuries in bicyclists

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    Garth and Robert,

    Nowhere in my post do I contend that I would have died had I not been wearing my helmet, though I’m rather partial to my head (just ask my wife) and am just as glad not to know for certain what a bare headed crash can do to you. Look at the difference between your quote from my post and your quote from cyclehelmets. However, avoiding the non-fatal injury a bare headed cyclist would have sustained is very important to me, and well worth the $20 helmet. (Garth)

    A bicycle helmet does not need to just save your life to be effective, as that little bit of impact absorption goes a long way toward preventing traumatic brain injury. (Robert)

    Ok but the page I quoted says “Yet there is no evidence that helmets save lives or prevent serious injury at all across cyclists as a whole”.

    So just like you, they’re not only talking about deaths.

  • patrick says:

    These comments are great.
    Here in Philly we had a close call last year involving all manner of legislation to make cycling “safer”. Bicycle registration fees, license plates, absurdly expensive tickets for minor traffic offenses, etc.. and I would have lived with it..just so long as there wasn’t mandatory helmet legislation.
    I’m a “do I need a helmet today” kind of cyclist and have learned a lot about how drivers treat me when I’m wearing a polystyrene hat or not. When I wear one, drivers usually have something to say and I always feel as though cars are racing me. The only times Ive been egged, I was wearing a helmet. (but it doesn’t seem to effect getting beer canned) I seem to draw more attention when I wear a helmet (ie, “gimme that bike”, “Lanse Ahmstong”, “faggot”, “get on the sidewalk”). hey I even did a little comic about helmet use:
    http://patricktheaker.com/?p=332
    And as far as kids are concerned, let them feel the wind in their hair. It always pains me to see my nephew have to suit up to go for a ride. It’s not war, it’s cheap, unbridled, fun. And then when he discovers how close everything is when he rides his bike, then he’s hooked.
    Fun and Function. Wow!

 
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