Bike Sharing? Stay Safe By Wearing A Helmet
May 1, 2012

Bike Sharing? Stay Safe By Wearing A Helmet

Connie K. Ho for

Getting around town has never been easier. There´s public transportation, like buses and metros. There are individual modes of transportation, such as cars and bikes. In particular, bike share programs have grown in popularity in urban centers as they allow people to exercise and help the environment by emitting less pollution. For those bike enthusiasts, it´s important to remember to wear a helmet while riding. However, a new study found that only 1 in 5 bikers wear their helmets.

Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center discovered that more than 80 percent of bike riders put themselves in life-threatening danger when they ride without a helmet.  The Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is affiliated with the Harvard Medical School, providing patient care, research, and teaching. It also currently ranks third in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding among independent hospitals in the U.S, working on projects such as the bike share study.

"Head injury accounts for about a third of all bicycle injuries and about three-quarters of bicycle related deaths, so these are some pretty shocking numbers," related lead author and emergency medicine physician, Dr. Christopher Fischer.

The findings, published in a recent issue of Annals of Emergency Medicine, were part of a study that examined bike share programs in Boston and Washington D.C.

"Helmet use is associated with decreased rates of head injury and mortality in riders of all ages, with bicycle helmets decreasing the risk of head and brain injury by 65 to 88 percent," described the authors in the report.

The interest in bike share programs was first seen seen in European cities like Barcelona and Paris.  There are currently 15 bike share programs in the U.S., and 30 more programs in development.  The Capital Bikeshare program in Washington D.C. was the first of its kind in the nation. SmartBike D.C. offered 120 bikes at stations in Downtown and the City Center, with 1,600 subscribing for the service. Since then, the organization has over 140 stations through D.C. and Arlington.

The team of researchers collected data in Boston and Washington D.C. with the help of trained observers. They had more than 43 observation periods done over 50 hours. They gathered information near bike share sites regarding helmet usage by adult cyclists, with more than 3,000 bikers observed in the study.

"We were surprised to find that of all bicyclists, more than half rode without helmets," commented Fischer in a prepared statement. "But it was even more concerning to learn that four out of five bike share riders were out there without helmets."

While helmet use is not a requirement by bike share programs, bike share programs in Boston and Washington D.C. have worked to promote the practice of wearing a helmet while riding.

"Bike sharing programs have the potential to offer a lot of benefits to cyclists and cities, but it's important to encourage safe cycling," explained Fischer in the statement. "We know that wearing a helmet reduces the risk of head injury dramatically and we believe that helmets should be more readily available at bike rental sites."