Since 1978 the rate of hospitalisations of Swedish children because of head injuries related to cycling has been reduced by 93%. This means that a large number of children, instead of being severely disabled, have been able to live normal lives.
This finding is established in a study by the researchers Diana Stark Ekman, University West, and Robert Ekman, Karlstad University.
"Brain injuries in kids are absolutely horrific. They affect their ability to grow up, learn, work, fall in love, do all those wonderful things. By preventing the head injury with a helmet we prevent not only 70 or 80 years of individual suffering, but also a huge social cost," says Diana Stark Ekman.
In 1978 0.7 children per 1000 in Sweden were hospitalised with head injuries because of bicycle accidents. The reduction has been 93% in all of Sweden. In the district of Skaraborg where helmet campaigns have been especially intense the reduction is 99%.
"Sweden in comparison with other countries is outstanding," says Diana Stark Ekman.
The tremendous gains in safety for children who ride bicycles in Sweden can be attributed to comprehensive bicycle helmet promotion campaigns. In addition, a bicycle helmet law has been in place since 2005. It states that all bicyclists under the age of 15 must wear helmets when they are driving or riding on a bicycle.
The influential programme in the district of Skaraborg to promote bicycle helmet use has been active since the mid-1980s. It is the result of local collaborations based on the Safe Communities model. Safe Community is a concept used by the WHO. A community can be designated as a Safe Community if it fulfils certain indicators regarding systematic safety promotion for its citizens.
"The district of Skaraborg got their communities together, all the politicians, all the health care, daycare, everybody got together and said we can do something about this, and they did it without a whole lot of external help," says Diana Stark Ekman.
Every family within the district of Skaraborg with 1-year old and 3-year old children is provided with 'Helmet Prescriptions' during visits to child health care clinics. These prescriptions allow for subsidised purchases of helmets in convenient locations. This is organised by the National Society for Road Safety Skaraborg group and a national insurance chain. There have also been multiple ongoing school campaigns over the years for children in different age groups.