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No evidence cycle helmet laws reduce head injuries: study


 

Bicycle helmets may prevent head injuries, but a newly published study has found there’s no evidence that mandatory helmet laws do the same thing.

“It is a bit counterintuitive that we don’t see an effect of helmet laws on head injuries,” said University of Toronto researcher Jessica Dennis, whose work was published Tuesday in the journal of the British Medical Association.

“But there’s so many other things going on at the same time a helmet law is passed that it’s really hard to say that helmet law was the reason head injuries decrease.”

Dennis, herself a daily cyclist with a 30-minute commute to downtown Toronto, compiled information countrywide on more than 66,000 hospital admissions for cycling-related head injuries between 1994 and 2008. She compared how those injury rates changed over time between provinces that had mandatory helmet laws and those that didn’t.

She found admission rates for provinces with legislation dropped 54 per cent for young people between 1994 and 2003, the period during which the laws were being brought in.

But Dennis also found rates dropping in provinces without legislation — although, at 33 per cent, not quite so steeply. She also found helmet laws produced little change in adult admission rates, which were low and stable throughout the study period.

Dennis found that in every province with legislation, the decline in hospital admissions for head-related cycling injuries actually started years before a law was introduced. Nor did the rate of that decline change with legislation.

She couldn’t find any statistical link between helmet laws and reduced hospital admissions.

“We were unable to detect an independent effect of legislation on the rate of hospital admissions,” the report concludes.

The study, the most extensive to date and the first to compare hospital admissions between provinces with and without helmet laws, suggests there’s a lot more to making cyclists safe than forcing them to wear head gear.

“It’s a complex social intervention that’s happening,” Dennis said.

Cities have installed cycling infrastructure such as bike lanes. Some communities have passed safe-passing laws that require motorists to move over as they drive by bikes.

Many cyclists have adopted helmets on their own without being required to by law. Education campaigns for riders and drivers have been created.

And there are just more people on bikes.

“There’s something to be said for safety in numbers.”

Dennis’s previous research has debunked theories that helmet laws reduce ridership and has shown that kids are more likely to wear helmets in provinces requiring both young and adult riders to do so.

Now her latest paper suggests that helmet laws don’t have the safety impact they’re cracked up to have.

“Helmet laws are attractive because they’re cheap and they’re easy to implement. But as our study shows, they shouldn’t be the only solution because it’s not enough.

“Helmet laws should be part of a comprehensive strategy to improve cycling safety.”


 
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No evidence cycle helmet laws reduce head injuries: study

  1. I’ve been cycling for over 40 years and I’m more fearful of idiotic bicycle riders who haven’t got a clue on how to ride safely, courteously, and with respect to other cyclists and pedestrians, than I’m afraid of really stupid drivers. Hello! Do you know what a bell is? Hello! Do you know how to signal to motorists? Hello! Did you have a lobotomy recently?

  2. I’d be interested in knowing what effect the helmet laws have on the amount of cycling that is done. Does the requirement to wear a helmet discourage some bike trips?

  3. The June 2013 edition of Bicycling Magazine has a long article explaining the shortcomings of current bicycle helmets. They do not protect against concussion and other brain injuries. By and large cyclists have been bamboozled and frightened into wearing them. One question not asked is whether helmets actually increase the risk of brain injury since they change the dynamics of a head crashing against a hard object. There is indeed research to show that a helmet can cause the brain to spin inside the skull resulting in brain tissue damage when a straight crack on the head would have resulted in a less serious skull fracture or a laceration.

  4. Helmet laws are mostly a way of avoiding what has to be done to ensure cycling safety, looking at the countries and jurisdictions where cycling is most widespread and safest. The higher the everyday, utilitarian cycling rate, the lower the rate of deaths and serious injuries among utilitarian cyclists. Achieving Dutch or Danish safety requires high-quality infrastructure (separate in high-traffic areas), a better legal framework, and universal cycling education in schools – that way everyone knows how to ride a bicycle and how cyclists move about, even when they are driving a motor vehicle.

    I’m a boomer, and have been a utilitarian cyclist for about 40 years. Sometimes I get the impression that younger cyclists simply don’t know the proper hand signals for turns.

    I do see more cyclists of late with front and rear headlights after dark. In recent years, headlights have been developed that are easier to snap on and off the bicycle – if not, they get stolen right away.

    We have made considerable progress in bicycle lanes and other infrastructure here in Montréal, but we have a very long way to go to achieve Northern European modal share – and safety – levels.

    Metropika, cars and trucks are still more dangerous to road users than clueless or macho cyclists.

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