Wearing a Bicycle Helmet Saves Lives

Wearing bicycle helmets reduces risk of death in cycling accident threefold

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Most people put on a seatbelt as soon as they get into their cars to drive somewhere. Putting on a helmet before a bicycle ride should be just as automatic. It could save your life.

A recent study confirmed past research about wearing helmets while cycling. Wearing a helmet cuts your risk of dying by a third. Not wearing one triples that risk.

"Wear a helmet while bicycling."

The study, led by Navindra Persaud, MD, MSc, Keenan Research Centre and the Department of Family and Community Medicine, St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto, looked at the relationship between bicycle accident deaths and helmet-wearing.

The researchers looked at 129 accidental deaths from bicycling that occurred in Ontario, Canada between January 2006 and December 2010.

The cyclists ranged from age 10 to age 83, and 86 percent of them were male. The vast majority of the cases — 77 percent — involved a car.

The researchers found that not wearing a helmet tripled a person's likelihood of dying in a bicycle accident.

This threefold risk actually increased a little when looking only at cyclists over age 18 and when looking at cyclists who had only a head injury and no other substantial injuries from their accident.

According to the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety in the US, about 2 percent of all deaths occurring because of a car accident are bicyclists, even though only 1 percent of all trips taken are on a bicycle. They reported that 95 percent of cyclists who died in 2006 were not wearing a helmet.

The US Department of Transportation reported that 618 cyclists died in 2010, again about 2 percent of the overall deaths occurring during accidents involving a motor vehicle.

"We saw an association between dying as a result of sustaining a head injury and not wearing a helmet," said Dr. Persaud in a release about the study. "Our study shows that wearing helmets saves lives."

In their conclusion, the authors wrote that "policy changes and educational programs that increase the use of helmets while cycling may prevent deaths."

Kevin Crutchfield, MD, a neurologist at LifeBridge Health, said he has never forgotten an early experience in his career when he had to pronounce a 21-year-old man brain dead after a cycling accident.

"Had he worn a helmet, he wouldn't have died," Dr. Crutchfield said. "The people who refuse to wear helmets think they're special — that it will never happen to them. People who understand they are going to die one day and are susceptible, they wear their helmets."

The study was published October 15 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The research was funded by a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and by the Department of Family and Community Medicine at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 9, 2012
Last Updated:
November 19, 2012