Bicycle helmet laws lead to 20% decrease in deaths and injuries, researchers find

Legislation can be vital in helping parents adhere to best practices

Existing research shows that bicyclists who wear helmets have an 88 percent lower risk of brain injury, but researchers at Boston Children's Hospital found that simply having bicycle helmet laws in place showed a 20 percent decrease in deaths and injuries for children younger than 16 who were in bicycle-motor vehicle collisions.

The cross-sectional study, conducted by William P. Meehan III, MD, Lois K. Lee, MD, MPH, Rebekah C. Mannix, MD, MPH of Boston Children's Hospital, and Christopher M. Fischer, MD, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, was published in the Journal of Pediatrics, and suggests that having these laws may influence parents to require their children wear helmets.

"Past research shows that laws can be an important factor in helping parents adhere to best practice guidelines," says Meehan. "For parents who feel like there is conflicting information related to child health, this evidence supports the fact that helmets save lives and that helmet laws play a role."

On average, 900 people die annually in bicycle-motor vehicle collisions-three quarters die from head injuries. At the start of the 12-year study (1999 to 2010), 16 states had bike helmet laws, and 35 did not. The researchers identified all relevant fatalities, totaling 1612, in states with and without bike helmet laws.

After adjusting for factors previously associated with rates of motor vehicle fatalities (elderly driver licensure laws, legal blood alcohol limit and household income) the adjusted fatality rate was still significantly lower in states with helmet laws.

To conduct the retrospective study, researchers analyzed data obtained from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS)-a census, compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which included information from all 50 states, including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Since the FARS database is limited to injuries sustained during a motor vehicle collision that resulted in the death of at least one person within 30 days of the collision, the findings are likely an understatement of how important helmet laws are. "As a result of the data only capturing deaths, rather than all injuries, our findings likely underestimate the effects of the mandatory helmet laws, because we did not capture all pediatric bicycle-related injuries," says Mannix.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all cyclists wear helmets that fit properly for each ride, and supports legislation that requires all cyclists to wear helmets.

Source: Boston Children's Hospital


  1. James Donohue James Donohue United States says:

    Yes, I am all-for helmet use. But let's consider another possibility , a protective shield for the handlebars, made of plastic, which could prevent injuries. It could look like a motorcycle windshield, also known as an aerodynamic fairing. The protective shield could be padded with a huge amount of polystyrene foam (a.k.a. Styrofoam), and could have a carry-all compartment , so it functions as an handlebar basket.
    I got one for my bike, and I believe it has saved my life , or prevented serious injury, at least once. Google "Fiberglass Ladies Bicycle" for more information.

    P.S. In the past, I may have said it would take a tool known as a "mold" to cast the plastic into the proper shape (something resembling a Motorcycle Windshield). I wish to recant that statement, and say instead that the item could be produced by a 3D Printer.

  2. Nicholas Dow Nicholas Dow Australia says:

    But did they allow for the fact that helmet laws reduce the amount of cycling? That would seem to be a big omission.  Of course observational studies should never be relied on as they don't prove causality, and making recommendations for laws that discourage healthy excercise should never be made on such flimsy evidence

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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