More evidence supports helmet use by cyclists

(Reuters Health) - Most Americans who are injured in cycling accidents don’t wear helmets, and this is especially true of men, children, and black and Hispanic riders, a new study suggests.

Researchers examined data on 76,032 cycling injuries from 2002 to 2012 and found that overall, just 22% of adults and 12% of kids were wearing helmets at the time of their bike accidents.

While about 28% of injured women wore helmets, only 21% of men did. And about 27% of white cyclists wore helmets, compared with 6% of black riders and 8% of Hispanic cyclists.

Cyclists who wore helmets were 44% less likely to die from their injuries than their counterparts who did not, the study also found. And they also had less severe injuries, less time in intensive care, and shorter hospital stays.

It’s not clear why some people wore helmets and others did not, said study coauthor Shahrzad Bazargan-Hejazi, a researcher at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science and David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. But previous research has offered some clues, she said by email.

“Non-users of the bike helmet are more likely to be less educated or aware of the protective nature of the helmet; to be risk-takers and have a perception that they can handle risky road situations; and consider wearing helmet not a practical thing to do, or not a cool thing to do,” Bazargan-Hejazi said. “Affordability is also a factor for people from lower socioeconomic status.”

Approximately 67 million people ride bicycles in the U.S., logging a combined 15 billion hours of cycling each year, researchers note in the journal Brain Injury. Cycling accidents are one of the leading preventable causes of traumatic brain injuries and other sports-related injuries.

Bicycle helmets have long been linked to a lower risk of injuries and death, but use has remained persistently low despite the ample evidence that helmets save lives.

Men with cycling injuries in the study had more severe injuries, longer hospital stays, and longer stints in the ICU than women.

Men were also 36% more likely to die from head and neck injuries than women.

Black, Hispanic, and Asian cyclists in the study had longer hospital and ICU stays than white riders.

Compared to white cyclists, black riders were 19% more likely to die from injuries sustained in accidents and Hispanic riders were 17% more likely to die.

The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how characteristics like race or sex might impact helmet use or outcomes from injuries.

One limitation of the study is that researchers relied on information in the National Trauma Data Bank, which may be missing records on many cycling accidents, the study team notes.

Researchers also lacked data on the type of helmets cyclists wore, which might also impact the severity of injuries, how long they stayed in the hospital, and whether they ultimately survived.

Even so, the results should offer fresh evidence of the potential for helmets to save lives, Bazargan-Hejazi said.

“Once on the road we do not have much control over the road condition or the environment, which can be the cause of all sort of accidents,” she said.

“However, we have relative control over our behavior and action,” she added. “We can use safety gears to protect ourselves against uncontrollable road conditions and environment, and bike helmet is one of those useful protective gears.”

SOURCE: Brain Injury, online September 12, 2019.