Fresh research backs 'strength in numbers' over helmet compulsion

Helmet compulsion shown to have no real terms effect on cyclist safety
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Fresh research published by the BMJ has concluded safe cycling infrastructure paired with "safety in numbers" is far more effective in reducing both injuries and fatalities while cycling than helmet compulsion.

The study concludes that transport and health policymakers should focus their attentions on promoting cycling routes segregated from traffic - something that correlates with reduced rates of injury. The study also suggested that, for traffic related injury, strength in numbers is indeed a factor in reducing incidents.

"For traffic-related injury causes, higher cycling mode share was consistently associated with lower hospitalisation rates. Helmet legislation was not associated with hospitalisation rates for brain, head, scalp, skull, face or neck injuries," said the research.

"Torso or extremity injuries were incurred by 82% of those hospitalised; brain, head, scalp, skull or face injuries by 25%; and neck injuries by 5%." 

Taking in data from 2006 to 2011, cycling hospitalisation rates for youths and adults was 622 hospitalisations per 100 million trips, with a slightly lower rates for youths vs adults. Males tended to represent a larger portion of hospitalisations.

As shown in the charts below, regions with helmet compulsion legislation didn't fare any better in injury charts, in particular making little difference in the case of traffic related causes where brain, head, scalp, skull or facial injuries occured.

"In our study, in most strata, females had a somewhat higher helmet use proportion, but this variable was not associated with lower hospitalisation rates," said the study.

The first of its kind to analyse exposure-based injury rates between jurisdictions within a single country, each with differing helmet legislation, the study concludes: "We did not find a relationship between injury rates and helmet legislation."

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Moving on to infrastructure and the research states "There is consistent evidence that safer bicycling infrastructure attracts more people to use it. This may result in a virtuous circle, if more cyclists mean a larger constituency calling for further safety improvements."

Areas with a higher 'bike score' are shown in the table below to have higher modal shares and a far greater number of annual trips. 

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The authors wrap up by stating: "In our view, the most important implication of our results is that factors other than helmet legislation influenced bicycling hospitalisation rates, whereas helmet legislation did not.

"Females had lower rates in our study and they have been shown to cycle more slowly, and to choose routes on quiet streets and with bike-specific infrastructure. We also found lower traffic-related hospitalisation rates with higher cycling mode shares. Here too there is a reasonable link to safer bicycling infrastructure, since it has been shown to draw more people to bicycling."

To read the full report, click here.

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