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More Helmet Hysteria

No doubt you’ve seen the recent news items about some politicians getting their panties in a twist about mandating helmets for kids going tobogganing.

Akin to the whole cyclists should wear helmets, to avoid a brain injury caused by a direct hit to the head” thing, because a few stupid kids (and we’re all stupid as kids, aren’t we?) get hurt, let’s slap helmets on everyone.

Is full-body armour next? I’m surprised “safety experts” aren’t mandating that for cyclists already.

Anyhow – to avoid this post being full of just my incensed rage at a society that thinks that helmets will prevent dumb accidents on a toboggan hill (or on a bike), I went out and found some hard numbers for you:

This is from the Canadian Institute for Health Information – a very reputable source.

Traumatic head injuries were sustained during sports and recreational activities in 28% of children and youth admitted to hospital for traumatic injury, and 8% of adults. Cycling is one of the leading causes of sports and recreation–related head injury. Of the 4,605 cycling injury hospitalizations in 2003–2004, 18% were due to head injuries. The highest proportion of hospitalizations due to cycling-related head injuries was seen in children and youth (60%).

Let’s look at what is implied, but not said in the above paragraph:

  • Traumatic head injuries were NOT sustained during sports and recreational activities in 72% of children and 92% of adults.
  • Of 4,605 cycling injury hospitalizations in 2003-2004, 82% were NOT due to head injuries.

Oh yeah… I can’t forget this part of the study, from the same link:

Among Canadians between 20 and 39 years of age, more than half of traumatic head injuries were due to motor vehicle incidents in 2003–2004 (1,867 admissions), followed by assault and homicide, which accounted for one-fifth of cases for this age group, or 722 admissions. For Canadians between the ages of 40 and 59, motor vehicles also accounted for the largest proportion of traumatic head injuries (40% or 1,308 admissions), followed closely by falls (39% or 1,290 admissions).

The CIHI site also has some good tables and charts about this issue.

I find it interesting that only about 10% (~500 out of ~5000) of traumatic head injuries suffered by children happened while cycling – yet helmets are mandatory for them. 90% of child traumatic head injuries did NOT happen while cycling! What about the 90% of the time they aren’t on their bike and their heads get hurt? Shouldn’t they be wearing helmets then too?

There are some provincial politicians who think that helmets should be mandatory for adult cyclists too, yet only about 2.5% (~300 out of ~12,000) of traumatic head injuries suffered by adults happened while cycling. 97.5% of traumatic head injuries did NOT happen while cycling. In fact, most of them happened in motor vehicle accidents.

Why don’t people in cars wear helmets? They are MUCH more likely to hurt their heads in a car than on a bike.

Combat the hysteria with common sense and cold hard facts.

  • argonic

    I think I’m just going to get a helmet and wear it all the time. Except maybe in bed; I think I’m safe there.

  • Joe (BikingToronto)

    Sleeping is more exciting without a helmet. :)

  • bz

    if you can reduce traumatic brain injuries by 18%, you have made a significant impact (no pun intended) to public health. 18% is huge.

  • Andy

    Statistics are such tricky things.

    I’m no expert, but it seems clear to me that even if only 18% of cycling injuries are head injuries, a broken skull isn’t equal to a broken leg. I consider my head to be more important. (And perhaps that figure was only 18% because some people were wearing helmets.)

    The fact that the older you get, the more likely you are to be injured in a car than on a bike isn’t surprising either. The proportion of adults riding bikes is much smaller than the proportion of kids riding bikes — almost all kids ride bikes, and most adults don’t on any regular basis. Not to mention that kids tend to experiment and risk a bit more — I haven’t jumped many ramps since high school.

    Just because kids injure their heads falling down stairs doesn’t mean they shouldn’t wear helmets on bikes. It means you should put a gate across the top of the stairs when they’re young. How to make cars safer is a whole other topic.

  • Joe (BikingToronto)

    I’m sure that most of the car head injuries are on highways too… where most average speeds are 120-140 kph. – You can wear anything and your brains are still gravy if you’re in an accident.

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