A new study by researchers at the University of Alberta’s school of public health concludes that the introduction of bicycle helmet legislation in Alberta has led to a decrease in head injuries across various age groups. The study, published in the October 2013 issue of the Journal of Accident Analysis and Prevention, examined Alberta Health data on hospitalizations and emergency department visits before and after legislation was introduced in 2002 making helmet use mandatory for those under 18.
The researchers found that, for child cyclists, the rate of hospitalizations and emergency department visits for head injuries decreased by nine percent and 30 percent respectively. For adolescents and adults, the decrease in hospitalizations for head injuries was 36 percent and 24 percent respectively.
The findings will likely prove controversial as they are contrary to the results of other research – and to the views of helmet legislation critics who suggest enforcing helmet use doesn’t reduce head injuries and discourages people from cycling. Such contentions are unproven, says Donald Voaklander, one of the study authors and director of the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research. This latest research, he says, presents definitive evidence that helmets remain an important injury prevention strategy.
I eagerly anticipate companion studies demonstrating that the wearing of helmets would be a useful injury prevention strategy for drivers of automobiles, buses, trucks and tractors as well. I accept, without funded research the obvious benefits of helmet-wearing for pedestrians.
If this type of research simply results in legislation that discourages significant numbers of cyclists from using this environmentally responsible form of transportation, society will be poorer for the effort.
I never wore a helmet from childhood through my teenage years. That was when helmets were those ugly/uncomfortable white styrofoam things.
However, for the last 18 years I won’t get on my bike without one. It’s a pretty easy precaution to take to protect my head, which I sort of depend on.
Modern helmets are comfortable and well ventilated (and they look good if that’s a concern) so your head doesn’t overheat. There’s no good reason why requiring a helmet should keep people from riding their bikes. After all, requiring a seatbelt in a car doesn’t stop anyone from driving.