Road Safety News

Study provides ‘solid evidence’ for mandatory cycle helmets

Thursday 29th September 2016

A new study has found that wearing a helmet reduces a cyclist’s chance of a serious head injury by nearly 70%, in the event of a collision.

Researchers at the University of New South Wales in Australia found that helmet use cut the chances of a head injury by 50%, a serious head injury by 69% and a fatal head injury by 65%. They also reduce the odds of injuries to the face by 33%.

Claims that bike helmets damaged the neck and caused serious brain injury were also found to be wrong in the study, which was headed up by statistician Dr Jake Olivier.

The researchers hope the results can ‘support the use of strategies to increase the uptake of bicycle helmets as part of a comprehensive cycling safety plan’.

First published on 22 July, the study which reviewed 64,000 injured cyclists worldwide, was presented to the international injury prevention conference, ‘Safety 2016’, in Finland on 20 September.

Dr Olivier also told the conference that wearing a helmet did not cause injuries to the neck, despite claims made in previous studies.

He said said his review found "pretty solid evidence that bike helmet use in a crash or fall significantly reduces injuries to head and serious head and facial injuries".

Dr Olivier stressed that helmets are designed to only protect the head and are not a “panacea for cycling safety".

In the UK, there is much debate over whether it should be mandatory for cyclists to wear helmets. At present, there is no law which requires them to do so, but in some other countries, including Australia, it is a legal requirement.



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A detailed report has now been published see;

Weaknesses with a meta-analysis approach to assessing cycle helmets Colin Clarke Abstract: Cycle helmets are a contentious issue which stems from evidence both for and against their use and the negative effects from when legislation is imposed, which has led to fines for non-wearers, some people cycling less or stopping and health implications. A meta-analysis by Olivier and Creighton includes reports that compare the proportion of head injuries or other injuries for wearer vs non-wearers. Weaknesses in this approach stem from the combined effect of issues which affect both the accident rate and head injury rate for helmeted vs non-helmeted or not fully being able to evaluate the differences that occur. The meta-analysis claims that helmet use is associated with odds reductions of 51% for head injury, 69% for serious head injury, 33% for face injury and 65% for fatal head injury. When examined in detail, all were found to be unreliable claims due to weaknesses of the supporting evidence and methodology.
Colin Clarke

Agree (2) | Disagree (1)

The meta-analysis claims that helmet use is associated with odds reductions of 51% for head injury, 69% for serious head injury, 33% for face injury and 65% for fatal head injury. When I examined the background reports in detail, all were found to be unreliable claims due to weaknesses of the supporting evidence and methodology. Two of my reports indicates very little benefit from helmet wearing.

Evaluation of Australia's bicycle helmet laws, The Sports Science Summit, O2 venue London UK Presented 14 January 2015.

Clarke, CF, Evaluation of New Zealand’s bicycle law, NZMJ 10 February 2012, Vol 125 No 1349

I think it would be helpful for road safety professional to hear two presentation, one supportive and one showing why concerns exist. There is evidence showing their use may actually reduce safety, e.g. Porter et al recently detailed that for the USA, adult cyclists wearing helmets had more than twice the odds of suffering an injury than cyclists not wearing helmets, with an OR value 2.81, 95% CL =1.14, 6.94.
Colin Clarke

Agree (2) | Disagree (1)

The same would very likely apply to pedestrians and car occupants if studied. Where do you draw the line? It needs to be recognised that nearly all non-motorised road user (including pedestrians) injuries are caused by drivers not looking where they are going (ONS data). Given most bicycle users already wear helmets, it would be more productive to encourage more careful driving, discouraging car-use especially for single-occupant local journeys, where walking, cycling or public transport would be so much better for everyone and the environment. This would address the root cause of non-motorised road-user head injuries, rather than blaming the victims.
Tom Holmes, Yorkshire

Agree (5) | Disagree (5)

It is possible that the helmet being larger than the circumference of the head, particularly with a peak over the front of the face, may hit the pavement first. By making the initial contact and deflecting and absorbing some of the force of contact it may actually stop or at least mitigate some of the possible head injuries that could have been suffered if one had not been worn.
Bob Craven Lancs

Agree (11) | Disagree (0)

@Duncan: My cycle helmet, and the others I see, will offer some facial protection by virtue of the fact that should I go over the handlebars and land face first, the bit of the helmet that covers the forehead is going to take some of the impact. I consider my forehead to be a part of my face.
David, Suffolk

Agree (11) | Disagree (0)

Most of the cycle helmets I have seen offer absolutely no protection to the face and yet a claim is made of a 33% reduction in facial injuries if a helmet is worn.
Duncan MacKillop. No surprise - No accident

Agree (12) | Disagree (12)

Hi Peter
When I use my motorbike for work, I use a crash helmet as it is a legal requirement. On the odd occasion that I use a push bike for work journeys, I don't. End of. I would probably give the push bike a miss if the rules of my organisation insisted on wearing one. That's my prerogative.

Bob, By the way, I'm one of those that didn't wear a motorcycle helmet most of the time after I passed my test until it became law. Partly the rashness of youth. Of course I wear it all the time now. No choice. Make of it what you will.

As far cycle helmets go, I do expect different results as I don't believe it has the same level of support amongst the general population as motorbike helmets did. If made mandatory I do expect: 1 non compliance by cyclists, 2 reduction in take up of cycling and 3 lack of enforcement by police.
Pat, Wales

Agree (14) | Disagree (12)

Pat, where do you stand on the principle that if you use a cycle for work your employers under the duty of care requires you to wear a helmet? It is being considered under the Health and Safety at Work Act. Section 2(1) places a duty on every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of all his employees. Section 3 extends similar provisions for those other than employees who may be exposed to risks to their health and safety' as a result of the employers 'undertaking'. Hence the requirement for helmets and an assessment of the cyclist prior to using a cycle supplied by the company or perhaps corporate membership of a cycle hire scheme.
Peter City of Westminster

Agree (9) | Disagree (11)

Funny, a lot of that was said about the wearing of crash helmets for motorcyclists prior to their introduction in 1973 and yet they became law and subsequently many lives have been saved and serious head injuries have been reduced..
Bob Craven Lancs

Agree (18) | Disagree (7)

Road safety measures should also be evaluated for unintended outcomes.

The likely result of laws to make helmet wearing compulsory are: 1 non compliance by cyclists, 2 reduction in take up of cycling and 3 lack of enforcement by police.

Road safety practitioners strongly promote the wearing of helmets but many would resist proposals to make it compulsory for the above likely outcomes and resulting lack of credibility of any such law as it falls into disrepute through non-compliance and weak enforcement.
Pat, Wales

Agree (24) | Disagree (6)