How Much Safer Are Bicycle Helmets Really?

We all know that wearing a bicycle helmet protects our noggin, but by how much exactly? According to a new Australian study, refusing to strap on a helmet can increase the chance of serious head injury by as much as 550 per cent.

Bike crash picture from Shutterstock

To determine the effectiveness of helmets in reducing head injuries and hospital treatment costs, researchers from the University of Sydney collected trauma registry data from 348 bike-riding patients admitted to seven Sydney hospitals between 2008 and 2009.

They discovered that cyclists without helmets were 5.6 times more likely to suffer any head injury than cyclists wearing helmets and 5.5 times more likely to suffer a severe head injury than their helmet-wearing counterparts.

Motorcyclists, meanwhile, were 3.5 times more likely to suffer a severe head injury when not wearing a helmet. On the surface, this seems to suggest that it’s safer to ride a motorbike than a bicycle when going helmet-free. However, we’re assuming a large proportion of the former were sent straight to the morgue and hence were not included in the study.

The report also found that the hospital costs of treating an injured bike rider was around three times higher for non-helmeted patients than for those who had worn a helmet, with the cost ranging between $33,000 and $140,000 (compared to $15,000–$60,000 for helmet wearers).

“The results add to the growing weight of observational data supporting the use of helmets, 3-5 which should therefore be considered at least as protective for pedal cyclists as they are for motorcyclists,” the report concludes.

However, they caution that the small sample size coupled with the inability to control for other incident factors (such as speed, collision details and intoxication) should be taken into account.

See also: Should Queensland’s New Bike Helmet Laws Apply To All Australians? | Helmet-Free Cyclists More Likely To Ride Drunk | Bikes On Footpaths: When Is It Lawful?

The effectiveness of helmets in reducing head injuries and hospital treatment costs: a multicentre study [Medical Journal of Australia]

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