A new study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine has come to some troubling conclusions: not only are half of all cyclists going without helmets, a staggering 80% of bike-share riders are going without – at least in Boston and Washington, DC, where the study was carried out.
There are a few potential reasons for the low use of helmets. Tourists might be renting a bike on a whim when they don’t own a helmet (or don’t have it on them), and commuters may not always remember to grab their helmet on the way out the door. While it would seem the benefits of wearing a helmet while biking are clear, states are hesitant to pass laws requiring their use.
It’s a delicate balancing act says, Christopher Fischer, one of the authors of the study in an interview with NPR:
“There’s been a lot of back and forth about this,” Fischer tells Shots. “Wearing a helmet is a good idea because if I’m going to fall off my bike and strike my head, I’d rather have a helmet than not.” But it’s not clear that the lack of a helmet should completely deter somebody from biking. “We want to increase people’s ability to get exercise and do things that are environmentally sound,” Fischer says.
Only 21 states require helmets for young bike-riders. No state currently requires helmets for adults. Lawmakers have argued that mandatory helmet laws discourage people from biking, when it’s so much healthier and more environmentally-friendly than driving. And some argue that infrastructure improvements like adding bike lanes, along with adding safety features to bikes, are more important than enforcing helmet use.
Nevertheless, DC’s Capital Bikeshare is doing all it can to encourage its riders to wear helmets. The program now sells helmets for its users, and some hotels in the area are beginning to stock helmets to loan to guests who might be interested in riding around DC on their visit. As these bike-share programs become more popular, the study says, efforts need to be undertaken to increase the use of helmets among riders. And these are just the sorts of measures the authors suggest.
Photo credit: Mark Hogan via Flickr