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New Research: The Majority of Injured Cyclists Don’t Wear Helmets

By Jiri Kaloc

A new study highlights the importance of wearing a helmet by showing what happens when you don’t. Researchers looked at over 70,000 cycling accidents and saw that only 22 % of the injured cyclists were wearing helmets. What impact did the helmet have on injury severity and recovery?

The research team from Charles R. Drew University of Medicine & Science and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA analysed 10 years of data (2002 – 2012) from the National Trauma Data Bank on 76,032 cyclists (81,1 % male and 18,9 % female) and what they found supports the idea that all cyclists could benefit from wearing helmets.

Woman in a helmet cycling near Whitehall © Profimedia

Wearing a helmet shortens hospital stay

Of the 76,032 cyclists with head or neck injury, shockingly only 22 % worn helmets. The authors found that wearing a helmet significantly reduced injury severity, length of stay in the Intensive Care Unit, length of the overall stay in the hospital, and total mortality. So, the remaining 78 % of cyclists without helmets had much worse health outcomes.

Both men and women benefited equally from wearing a helmet

The study also found that women had a higher percentage of helmet use with 28,3 % compared to men with only 20,6 %. This corresponds to the fact that of those who sustained head or neck injuries, men were 36 % more likely to die than women. Also, injury severity scores, length of stay in the hospital, and time spent in intensive care were all greater for men than women.

© Profimedia, Alamy

“It is perhaps not surprising that females were more likely to have worn a helmet than males when involved in an accident. It is not entirely clear, however, why males, in general, had higher hospital and intensive care unit stay days, and in mortality,” the authors state. “However, our analysis does show that females and males benefitted almost equally by wearing a helmet.”

Children under 17 need helmets the most

The study also found that helmet use was highest among adults over 40 with 31,8 % and the lowest among children under 17 with only 12,1 %. The authors speculate that this may be because of barriers perceived by young people including the helmets being “uncomfortable” and “annoying”.

“Our findings and other research suggest that mandatory helmet laws can improve injury and mortality outcomes of bicycling accidents. At-risk groups may benefit from injury prevention and outreach programmes that aim to increase helmet use.”