Helmet laws don't reduce head injuries

No correlation between helmet laws and reduced head injury rates

A major Canadian study has found no link between laws that make it illegal to cycle without a helmet and reduced head injury rates. The study has suggested governments provide bike infrastructure to protect cyclists instead. 

Between 2006-2011 the researchers from the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto examined hospitalisation data from different Canadian jurisdictions, some with helmet laws and some without. 

They found no correlation between mandatory helmet laws and reduced head injury rates.

The study published in the BMJ did find that female cyclists were less likely to be injured. This was attributed to women taking less risks when cycling. They also found lower injury rates in areas with high levels of cycling. 

The report found: "Helmet legislation was not associated with reduced hospitalisation rates for brain, head, scalp, skull or face injuries, indicating that factors other than helmet laws have more influence on injury rates." 

The study concluded: "These results suggest that transportation and health policymakers who aim to reduce bicycling injury rates in the population should focus on factors related to increased cycling mode share and female cycling choices. Bicycling routes designed to be physically separated from traffic or along quiet streets fit both these criteria and are associated with lower relative risks of injury." 

Roger Geffen, Director of Policy at CTC, the national cycling charity said: "Once again researchers have unearthed evidence which casts doubts on the usefulness of cycle helmets.  They not only provided limited protection - they are only designed for minor falls, not collisions - but there is also evidence that they may increase the risk of collisions happening in the first place, by making either drivers or cyclists less cautious, or indeed by increasing the risks of neck and other injuries.

"What's clear though is that there's no justification for health or safety professionals to bang on about cycle helmets as if they were a panacea.  Their focus needs to be on reducing the risk of collisions occurring in the first place, by reducing traffic volumes and speeds, creating safe and cycle-friendly roads and junctions, tackling bad driving and reducing the risks from lorries.  That's what will help achieve more, as well as safer, cycling, in order to maximise the benefits cyclists gain from 'safety in numbers'."

For more information about cycling helmets and the law, visit our legal information page


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