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Researchers analysed 10 years of casualty data from across the US

A  new study has found that most people who are injured while riding bikes in the United States were not wearing a cycle helmet at the time of the incident, and that people who were wearing one were less likely to die from their injuries.

Published in the journal Brain Injury, the study analysed data relating to 76,032 cycling injuries between 2002 and 2012 from the National Trauma Data Bank.

They found that only one in five adults (22 per cent) and one in eight children (12 per cent) were recorded as wearing a helmet when they were injured.

Women (28 per cent) were more likely then men (21 per cent) to have been wearing a helmet, and white cyclists (27 per cent) than black or Hispanic riders (6 and 8 per cent respectively).

Helmet wearers were 44 per cent less likely to die from their injuries than people who did not wear one, and the study also found that their injuries were less severe and that they spent less time in intensive care and were released from hospital sooner.

Co-author Shahrzad Bazargan-Hejazi of the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science and David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA told Reuters: “Non-users of the bike helmet are more likely to be less educated or aware of the protective nature of the helmet; to be risk-takers and have a perception that they can handle risky road situations; and consider wearing helmet not a practical thing to do, or not a cool thing to do. Affordability is also a factor for people from lower socioeconomic status.”

The study called for greater efforts to be made to encourage people to wear helmets while cycling, and Bazargan-Hejazi added: “Once on the road we do not have much control over the road condition or the environment, which can be the cause of all sort of accidents.

“However, we have relative control over our behaviour and action. We can use safety gears to protect ourselves against uncontrollable road conditions and environment, and bike helmet is one of those useful protective gears.”

In the US, 21 states have statewide helmet laws, in all cases applying only to younger cyclists (typically, under-16s).  

The helmet debate invokes passions on both sides, and while there are regular calls to make cycle helmets mandatory for all riders, cycling campaigners point out that introducing such legislation discourages people from cycling and thereby has a more negative effect on public health overall.

Other studies have also shown that motorists tend to give more space when overtaking to cyclists who are not wearing helmets, meaning that those who do wear one may be at greater risk of being involved in a collision in the first place.

Cycling advocate Chris Boardman has also said that helmets “are not even in the top 10 of things you need to do to keep cycling safe” and that the focus on the issue not only distracts from areas such as putting safe infrastructure in place, but also actively discourages people from cycling since it reinforces the misconception that cycling is inherently dangerous.  

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.