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Study Roundup: Bicycling? Wear a Helmet

A study from researchers Toronto find that bicycle helmets help prevent fatal head injuries.

A bicycle helmet-- by Nina Lincoff

The Gist

In 2010, 618 cyclists died in the United States, and 52,000 suffered injuries. In Canada, one cyclist dies every week. As it turns out, staying safe while cycling may not be easy as, well, getting back on a bicycle.

There is, however, at least one thing cyclists can do to make their rides just a bit safer. And it’s nothing special: it’s called a helmet. 

Researchers from Toronto studied 129 cycling fatalities and found that not wearing a helmet while cycling increased the risk of dying from a fatal head injury. The study was published earlier this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Previous studies have confirmed that helmets are also effective in preventing non-fatal head injuries. The real question it seems to be, why isn’t everyone wearing a helmet?

The Expert Take

Author of the study Navindra Persaud, M.D., M.Sc., of St. Michael’s Hospital says that he hopes these findings will increase awareness about safe cycling practices and motivate public policy for requiring helmet use. 

“We’re trying to raise awareness to speak to the benefits of wearing a helmet and we hope that others will raise awareness as well,” said Persaud in an interview with Healthline. “We hope that consideration will be given to tax breaks for people that will buy helmets.” In some areas, safe bicycling practices are already in place. In Ontario, minors under 18 years old are required to wear helmets. The next step, says Persaud, is to put laws in place that require people of all ages to wear helmets.

With findings that show the effectiveness of bicycle helmets in preventing fatal injuries, that shouldn’t be hard. Persaud himself bikes to work occasionally, and yes, he does wear a helmet.

The Bottom Line

Regardless of age, wear a helmet.

Of the 129 fatalities studied, 88 percent were over the age of 18, which implies that laws requiring minors to wear helmets are effective. “I think that these findings will encourage people to wear helmets and encourage public policy for wearing helmets,” said Persaud. While bicycling infrastructure, such as safe bike lanes and bike sharing and repair programs certainly ensure greater safety for cyclists, wearing a helmet is an easy thing cyclists can do on their own for a safer ride. The researchers did not have information on which types of headgear the cyclists were using, or best helmet practices.

Source and Method

Persaud and his team studied data from the coroner’s review of 129 cycling fatalities that occurred between January 2006 and December 2010. Their focus was on any head-related fatality which included traumatic head injury, close head injury, craniocerebral trauma, etc. The control for the study were deaths not cause by head injury.

The 129 fatalities covered cyclists young and old, ranging from 10 to 83 years in age. Of these fatalities, 86 percent were men and 77 percent were caused by motor vehicle collision, while the rest were largely caused by severe falls. Helmets were effective in preventing death by head injury in both minors and adults. 

Other Research

In 2000, the University of Washington released findings showing that helmets help prevent head injury. At the time, around 900 cyclists were dying annually in the United States. The decrease in cycling fatalities corresponds with raised helmet awareness over the last decade. 

The Centers for Disease Controla and Prevention also recommend wearing a bicycle helmet for safer cycling.

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Tags: Awareness , Latest Studies & Research

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The Healthline Editorial team writes about the latest health news, policy, and research.