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The whole Adult Bike Helmet Issue… Again

This will be in the news forever.

Today, it’s a Globe & Mail news item about mandatory helmet use by all cyclists.

What these articles NEVER mention is that in accidents involving car occupants and/or pedestrians, the injured are NEVER wearing helmets. If it’s much more likely that someone will be hurt while in a car or as a pedestrian, shouldn’t helmets be mandatory for them?

I’ve posted about this before, using official statistics from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, but if you don’t feel like reading my earlier post, here’s the most important bits:

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.

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.

I used to wear a helmet. Now I don’t.

Wearing a helmet does not determine whether I get hit by a car or not. Whether I get hit or not depends on the driver, and that I ride my bike in a safe manner (which I do).

It’s a given that if I suffer a head injury, it will be less serious if I am wearing a helmet. However, given that according to the CIHI, only about 300 adults are hospitalized per year with cycling-related head injuries… the chances of me being hit and suffering a head-related injury that a helmet could mitigate is very small.

Of 2500 Major Head Injuries Annually in Ontario
49% motor vehicle involvement – including pedestrians, excluding cyclists
35% falls, 6% homicide, 2% suicide, 6% other causes
less than 2% Cycling
(Source: Canadian Institute For Health Information 2001/2002) [link]

I base my behaviour on the statistics. Not the hysteria.

Also, and this is a biggie… biking is a lot more fun without a helmet. Try it on some quiet sidestreets and you’ll thank me.

Good links:


  • James

    I feel like if I get hit, it’s going to be so major that it’s not going to matter whether I’m wearing a helmet or not.

  • tt

    Joe – this is great stuff! I only wonder why we don’t have this on I Bike TO?? (perhaps it is in th emoderation queue and I don’t know!) I didn’t know you stopped wearing the skid lid! I hope you will crosspost this to I Bike TO. It’s great research and also a good personal story! thx tammy

  • Joe

    Yeah, I just didn’t get a chance to post it on Friday before I left for the weekend. :)

  • Jeremy

    Are there any statistics comparing the success of helmets in these traumatic head injury situations?

  • Tony


    While you can find more recent info online, I just wanted to find something that illustrated what I was about to mention; that your statistics do not support your claim – they support the claim that of the head injuries seen in hospitals, only a minority relate to bike injuries (which is to be expected, until we have 20 million daily bike commuters).

    Of bike related injuries, and ONLY bike related injuries, how many head traumas involve helmets vs no-helmets – this is what you should ask. And the answer from that link (though a bit out of date), is that as expected. non-helmeted riders account for 90% or more of reported head trauma hospitalizations.
    Your analogy to cars is also poor. The direct comparison would be helmets to seatbelts, which are the critical component to preventing head injuries. Hitting the windshield and flying through it are not preventable by a helmet in that situation, without a seatbelt.
    Would you suggest people stop wearing seatbelts in cars because only a maximum of 12000 drivers out of over 18,000,000 (that’s 0.067 %) in Canada suffered traumatic head injuries (we’re assuming all injured were wearing seatbelts)? Why at 2.5% for cyclists, that makes cyclist 36 times more likely to be involved in head traumas than auto drivers.
    So you’re statement that it’s much more likely to be hurt while in a car…..uh, no, sorry. Go fish.
    Of course, your original argument is flawed to begin with, since the stats do not support the claims, but it shows what happens when you make incorrect claims about stats.

    Whether you dislike wearing a helmet or not, your opinion on their safety is completely uninformed and at worst, purposely misleading. They do provide increased protection, as do seatbelts in motor vehicles, and they do reduce the number and seriousness of head traumas reported. You can choose not to wear one, but the increased risk if you’re involved in a collision/fall is something you take on, whether you like it or not.

    As more people do wear helmets, the number of injuries for helmeted people relative to non-helmeted will rise of course, as it should. That does not mean that helmets are becoming more unsafe. Nor does it mean they don’t reduce or mitigate the risk of serious injury in accidents. The anti-seat belt lobby tried to take this tack a few decades ago, and it failed because the seriousness of injuries for seatbelt wearing patrons did and does remain low in comparison to non-seatbelted patrons. With bikes, expect to see fewer deaths, fewer major head traumas (like a cracked skull), and a co-commitant rise in minor head trauma or minor injuries. After all, people are still going to get hit or fall, they just won’t be as likely to die or require hospitalization when wearing a helmet.

    By the way, promoting helmet use does not mean you should not wear ADDITIONAL protection on bikes, in cars, or in any endeavour. Full face bike helmets should be mandatory (much as on motorbikes), as should knee, arm, and wrist pads. Ask anyone in the Lacrosse or Inline skating community (yes, I’m in both) about the efficacy of body armour and helmets, esp full face helmets. Or just ask anyone who’s had their teeth knocked out or jaw broken.
    Wearing a proper helmet is not the total safety end-all. But it’s the right start….

  • BikingToronto

    Thanks for your input Tony.

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