Bicycle Helmets Really Do Work, But You Have to Wear Them

Helmets accounted for an 88 percent lower risk of brain injury, but people still aren’t wearing them

Rennet Stow

As the weather gets warmer, and more and more people hop on their bikes, the complaints about helmets are about to start up. Why wear a helmet, really? If a car hits you, you’re toast, right? But a new study serves as a reminder to bikers everywhere: wearing a helmet really does work.

Over 12 years, researchers looked at bicycle-car collisions to see how effective mandatory helmet laws really were. Helmets accounted for an 88 percent lower risk of brain injury, and helmet laws led to a 20 percent decrease in injury and death in kids under 16 involved in car-bicycle collisions.

The researchers on the study say that parents, regardless of whether a law is in effect in their state, should force their kids to wear helmets. “For parents who feel like there is conflicting information related to child health, this evidence supports the fact that helmets save lives and that helmet laws play a role,” lead researcher William P. Meehan said. This, of course, isn’t the first study to suggest that bike helmets really do work. One review of 63 studies found that “the evidence is clear that bicycle helmets prevent serious injury and even death.” But that study also note that “despite this, the use of helmets is sub-optimal.”

Some of that gap can be attributed to laws. Only 22 states requires kids to wear helmets while riding their bicycles. But even in those states, many parents don’t heed those rules. An earlier study looked at how effective Canadian laws were at getting people to actually wear helmets, and found that helmet laws themselves don’t decrease the rates of head injuries, even though helmets themselves clearly do.

Every year, about 900 people die from being hit by cars while on their bicycle. Helmets certainly wouldn’t save all of them, but this research suggests that it could certainly help.

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