Mandatory bicycle helmets; a “clear” choice, says Toronto MD

Alycia Joy

September 24, 2009

Staying safe on the city streets is a difficult task for many cyclists in Toronto. But now they might have to get used to the idea of strapping on a helmet, if they plan to peddle around.

Councillor Michael Walker has once again brought his motion for mandatory helmets forward to the works committee at city hall.  The difference this time is that he has the support from many in the medical field.

Dr. Robin Green is a neuro-psychologist and research scientist at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute.  Green said that helmets should be mandatory for all cyclists.

“People should do what they can to protect their brains,” she said in an email interview. “With a brain injury, life changes very dramatically, and we are still trying to understand the effects of even seemingly minor injuries.”

To put into perspective how life changing a bicycle accident can be for a person, Green has a list of long-term effects people typically suffer from.

“People can suffer permanent impairments to their cognitive functions,” she said.  There are many capacities particularly affected, which include a person’s memory, attention, the speed of information processing, and higher functions like being self-aware.

According to Green, helmets are also able to prevent penetrating injuries to the brain.  This refers to objects that penetrate the skull or brain when a person falls off their bike.

“A good helmet can help to diminish the bouncing of the brain inside the skull, which results in contusions to the outer surface of the brain,” she said.

Green notes that the severities of a cyclist’s injuries are greatly increased when a person rides at a faster pace, or if they fall off their bike from a considerable height.

The TorontoStar.com, with data from the Toronto transportation department, reported that in 2008 there were a total of 1,068 bike accidents in the city of Toronto.  This means that there were approximately 3 bike accidents per day.

Helmets.org reported that bike helmets reduce the risk of a person suffering from a head injury by 85%.  They also reported that cyclists who do not wear a helmet are 14 times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than their helmeted counterparts.  The same report stated that 75% of child bike fatalities could be avoided with the use of a helmet.

Green argues that wearing a helmet is a good idea for those cyclists who want to prevent as much injury as possible from an accident.

With a helmet, “the severity of injury to the brain would be mitigated and in some cases, lives would be saved.”

Cyclists are urged to weigh the cost of a helmet against the benefits of protecting your head from the life-long consequences of a brain injury.  For Green, “it’s clear which way the scale tilts.”

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One thought on “Mandatory bicycle helmets; a “clear” choice, says Toronto MD

  1. The study that found 85% reduction in injury has been completely discredited, from wikipedia:

    “This has been taken as strong evidence that cycle helmets are beneficial in a crash. The most widely quoted case-control study, by Thompson, Rivara, and Thompson, reported an 85 % reduction in the risk of head injury by using a helmet. There are many criticisms of this study, including use of a control group with very different risks. Re-analysis of the Thompson, Rivara and Thompson data, substituting helmet wearing rates from co-author Rivara’s contemporaneous street counts, reduces the calculated benefit to below the level of statistical significance”

    The authors themselves later significantly reduced their estimates on injury reduction.

    Far more important for bicycle safety is proper technique. A helmet only provides a modicum of protection in a crash, while proper technique will significantly reduce your chances of getting in a crash at all.

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