The Stats Behind the Bicycle Helmet

Bicycle Helmet SafetyWe all know that wearing a bicycle helmet is critically important for safety when cycling, but how many people actually wear them? We looked at the statistics quite a few years ago and now it’s time for an update. Are you one of the statistics and could that mean that someday you will be one of the fatal or critically injured statistics? Read on to learn more about the habits of cyclists and the number one safety gear: the bicycle helmet.

The Bad Stuff

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, in 2015, about 2% of motor vehicle crash deaths are cyclists, which may not sound like much, but 2% is still a scary number and it’s fairly easy to prevent if people were just more aware of the dangers. The most serious injury is to the head which can be prevented through the use of a properly designed and properly fitted helmet. In fact, properly used, the use of a helmet reduces the odds of a head injury by a whopping 50%, while the odds of damage to the face or neck are dropped by 33%, so there’s that.

However, not all states in America require the use of bicycle helmets; it tends to get left to local laws and it’s not always well enforced. This is fairly frightening considering how easy it is to drop the rate of injury of death, simply by swallowing one’s pride and wearing a helmet. Furthermore, when there are laws in place regarding the use of helmets, the odds that somebody will wear a helmet are four times higher, just by having that law exist at all. People tend to be fairly law-abiding in the first place, and this rather proves that out.

Death by Numbers (and a Lack of Bicycle Helmets)

Let’s look at the overview of usage, shall we? Where do you fit in on the percentages?

  • 88% of cyclist deaths are people who are age 20 and older (likely because parents are more likely to enforce helmet laws on their children, but are also more likely to ignore
    them, particularly in their early twenties.
  • Only 17% of people fatally injured were wearing helmets. 54% were not wearing helmets and helmet use was unknown for 29%.
  • 817 cyclists were killed by motor vehicles in 2015 which is a 13% increase from 2014 and the highest number of deaths since 1995
  • Deaths among cyclists younger than 20 have declined 88% since 1975 (great!), but have tripled among people over the age of 20 (Not so great!).
  • More males die than females with the sharpest incline among males older than 20. Deaths among males younger than 20 are declining. Females are remaining roughly the same across the board.
  • It’s estimated that every year, 550,000 people are treated in the emergency room for injuries related to bicycle riding and head injuries account for 62% of death, 33% of
    emergencies and 67% of hospital admissions.

Breakdown the Numbers.

In 2015, 80 males under the age of 20 died in bicycle crashes and 612 males over the age of 20 died. 11 females under the age of 20 died and 108 over the age of 20 died. In other words, males under the age of 20 were four times more likely to be killed in a bicycle crash and about six times more likely to die when over the age of 20.

In 2015, 440 people died in bicycle crashes and they weren’t wearing a helmet. 139 died in spite of wearing a helmet and 238 are unknown.

Bicycle Helmet Statistics
Graph courtesy of http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/pedestrians-and-bicyclists/fatalityfacts/bicycles

Trends in Bicycle Helmet Use

With such frightening numbers to look at, shouldn’t the numbers to do with bike helmet use be higher? Even though there are many injuries and deaths related to cycling, people still don’t take very good care of their bodies and wearing a helmet can go a long way towards preventing so much heartache. So what are the trends for wearing (or not wearing) helmets?

  • Only 18% of cyclists wear a helmet. 18% (I’ll say it louder, for the people in the back: EIGHTEEN PERCENT!)
  • Only 15% of riders under the age of 15 wear a helmet.
  • What’s worse? One study in Australia found that 15.7% of people would ride bikes more often if they didn’t have to wear a helmet. That’s 2.4 million people who won’t ride a bike if they have to wear a helmet while doing it. Yikes!

If helmets are so important, why don’t we wear them? Well, there are a number of reasons, but they include:

  • Cost. Helmets aren’t cheap – unless you buy the super cheap ones. There are some out there that are very good value though like this one from Bell. (Check price at Amazon)
  • Comfort. Many helmets aren’t terribly comfortable and aren’t well fitted. People also find them inconvenient to use over short distances.
  • Ignorance. Many people don’t know how effective helmets are or even don’t believe they are effective. (It doesn’t take much of a google search to find people who are
    derisive towards helmet use).
  • School-age children tend to believe that if they wear a helmet, they will be mocked, teased, and otherwise pressured into taking it off.
  • Helmet use is also influenced by the same things which influence the use of seat belts: age, education, income, and marital status, which is kind of interesting: people use the same justifications such as it being a short trip, helmet hair, it’s uncomfortable or just plain cannot be bothered.
  • For most people, the reasons tend to boil down to either cost or just not wanting to be bothered wearing something that is bulky, slightly uncomfortable and may just not look very cool (though that being said, there are plenty of pretty nice-looking helmets out there if you take a bit of time to look!) It’s often bolstered by the fact that for every study that is put out defending helmets, you can find another one that says it isn’t necessary.

Cycling can be really fun, great exercise, and depending on where you live, may be nearly as fast as driving since you don’t have to worry about congestion. However, it can also be dangerous because if you are out on the road, you are biking amongst cars, trucks, pedestrians, larger vehicles, and let’s not forget your average texting teenage driver! The best way to protect yourself so that you can continue to enjoy cycling is to strap on that bicycle helmet. Don’t become one of the scary statistics: strap on your bike helmet before you ride!

For citation: Stats referenced here are from 2013-2015 (http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/pedestrians-and-bicyclists/fatalityfacts/bicycles) and
https://www.cdc.gov/Mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00036941.htm