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Why are so few adults wearing bike helmets?

posted by SK Brain Injury    |   August 1, 2011 20:55


Every day in Canada, 36 people end up in hospital from bicycle injuries. That rate hasn't changed much in the last decade, according to new data. But even with more kids wearing helmets when they cycle, the number of adults who insist on riding helmet-free holds stubbornly steady.

Data from the Canadian Institute of Health Information show that the number of Canadians ending up in hospitals from bike accidents remained fairly unchanged between 2001 and 2010 -- about 4,300 a year.

The number of cycling-related head injuries decreased significantly in that decade: from 907 to 665. But among the most severe injuries -- those ending up in trauma units -- 78 per cent were not wearing a helmet.

"That data suggest that perhaps helmets are helping and it is a shame that people are not hearing the message about wearing helmets," says Claire Marie Fortin, CIHI's manager of clinical registries.

When CTV News cameras headed out to some popular cycling trails in Toronto, it wasn't hard to find adults who weren't wearing helmets.

"Why didn't I wear a helmet? Because I am a fool. I don't think it will happen to me," cyclist Kevin Boland said.

Another cyclist said he doesn't wear a helmet out of convenience, because he doesn't like taking the helmet on and off. Others told us helmets were too uncomfortable.

Across Canada, many provinces have laws requiring kids under 18 to wear helmets when cycling. But only four -- British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island -- require all cyclists to protect their heads with helmets.

"Some of our provinces have zero legislation even for children can you believe that?" says concussion expert Dr. Charles Tator of Toronto Western Hospital.

"So we have a big job to do to convince our legislators and to convince the public that we should have comprehensive legislation right across the country for bicycles, scooters and inline skates and on our road."

But it is a tough battle. The British Medical Journal has just published a survey showing that two thirds of its readers voted against mandatory bike helmets -- and many of those readers would have been health care workers.

In Vancouver, where bike helmets are mandatory, there are plans for a legal challenge of the helmet law that's scheduled for mid-August. Many of those fighting the law say making helmets mandatory infringes on their rights.

Some even call the law discriminatory against cyclists, noting that drivers who are also at risk in an accident don't have to wear helmets. They note there are only a few hundred hospitalizations for head injuries among cyclists. By comparison, in 2004, there were close to 6,000 hospital admissions for head injuries in car crashes.

The cyclist who is challenging the law argues in his court filings: "Bicycle helmet legislation is discriminatory as it applies, with demonstrable justification, only to individuals who ride bicycles without being equally applied to individuals who drive automobiles or walk."

With a report from CTV's medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip