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Bike helmet legislation doesn’t work, says new Canadian study

Bike helmet legislation

Bike helmet legislationA new study says making the use of bike helmets mandatory under the law is pointless and doesn’t protect cyclists.

The study, which was published November 2 in medical journal BMJ Openis called “Bicycling injury hospitalisation rates in Canadian jurisdictions: analyses examining associations with helmet legislation and mode share”. UBC-based researchers Kay Teschke, Mieke Koehoorn, Hui Shen, and Jessica Dennis aimed to determine whether hospitalization rates differed between parts of Canada in which bike helmets are mandated and those that aren’t.

Canada’s laws on wearing bike helmets differ from province to province. Helmets are required for all people who ride a bike in British Columbia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. They are required only for those over the age of 18 in Alberta and Ontario. And Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Saskatchewan, and Canada’s Territories don’t require a helmet for anyone.

Helmet use in adults varies greatly across Canada. Nova Scotia ranks the highest, with 74.8% of all cyclist wearing a helmet, followed by B.C. with 71.3%. Manitoba was the lowest, with just 30% of all cyclists wearing a helmet, followed by Saskatchewan at 30.3%.

The researchers in the study pulled data from large surveys conduced by Stats Canada. They found that between 2006 and 2011 there were an average of 3690 hospitalizations per year from about 593-million annual trips. The study found that helmet legislation was not associated with hospitalisation rates for all injury or traffic-related injury causes.

The study points out that at least one other study found reductions in brain or head injuries of 8–29 per cent related to helmet legislation, but several others have found no effect.

One veteran cycling advocate in the U.K. says the results of the Canadian study don’t surprise him.

“Once again researchers have unearthed evidence which casts doubts on the usefulness of cycle helmets,” says Roger Geffen, Director of Policy at the Cyclists’ Touring Club, a cycling advocacy organization that dates back to 1878.”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.”

Geffen says any jurisdiction concerned about cyclist safety should look elsewhere.

“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,” he told ZME Science. “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 maximize the benefits cyclists gain from ‘safety in numbers’.”

The Canadian study says it found two conclusive pieces of data from their research. First, females had consistently lower rates of hospitalization than did males. Second, cyclists who traveled in groups had lower injury rates. The researchers cited another study that found male helmet users tend to increase their speed and approach other cyclists more closely, but that female helmet users did not.

“These results suggest that policymakers interested in reducing bicycling injuries would be wise to focus on factors related to higher cycling mode shares and female cycling preferences. Bicycling infrastructure physically separated from traffic or routed along quiet streets is a promising fit for both and is associated with a lower relative risk of injury,” concluded the study.

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About The Author /

Cantech Letter founder and editor Nick Waddell has lived in five Canadian provinces and is proud of his country's often overlooked contributions to the world of science and technology. Waddell takes a regular shift on the Canadian media circuit, making appearances on CTV, CBC and BNN, and contributing to publications such as Canadian Business and Business Insider.
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  1. All long term, large scale, reliable evidence shows that cycle helmets are irrelevant to the safety of cyclists, just like this one. Could the politicians and the helmet zealots please read it and stop demanding helmet laws?

    The can read it at

  2. Helmets are part of a strategy, but there are other bicycle accessories today, that weren’t available 40 years ago, which are more important than helmets (provided we re-consider the strategy)…Okay, First, there were Football Helmets … We were denied access to Football Helmets, told we would have to be on the high school football team to be issued one. Football helmets would have sufficed, for all practical purposes…
    A strategy was improvised , where it was decided that cyclists would pedal as fast as possible , these Ten Speed Bicycles we were promised were capable of 30 MPH. The Ten Speed Bicycle was introduced to America in 1960 , before that, all the bikes were one speed, which went 18 MPH tops, or three speed , which only the rich could afford , LOL…
    So, If I’ going 28 miles per hour, and the speed limit is 30 miles per hour, how fast is the car actually *gaining* on my Bicycle ? (Assuming the driver isn’t speeding) ? The answer to this differential equation is TWO miles per hour, my friend… Now, today, the cyclists have rear-view mirror and video cameras, so when I ask the next rhetorical question, don’t answer, please , or I’ll face-palm… please…
    Now, assuming the driver doesn’t blink, and the brakes work on the car, how much time does the driver have to slow down or move over? Plenty of time, the answer is in minutes, not even in seconds. I’m going to erase these numbers from the blackboard now, and we will look instead at the video… I’ve been using a video camera , mounted on my bike, to record all the cars that pass my bicycle, and now everyone gives seven to ten feet of clearance when passing. I have video to prove it. But it would be very boring to have to watch ten thousand cars passing safely, (people want to see the wrecks), but there haven’t been any…
    Anyway, the strategy change… How about, instead of going faster (the idea was to give drivers more time to move over), we just watch the rear-view mirror, and if a truck comes along, we move over as necessary, (the idea being, that if we go slower, it will be safe to go off the edge of the road, or we will have ten or fifteen seconds to find a wide spot to allow the truck to pass) …
    I think it all comes down to the instant replay that the video shows… It’s like a Foul Ball , out-of-bounds, you crossed the little white line, and it’s on the video, the ref ( a judge) will be reviewing the video.

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