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Study Finds Only 1 In 5 Bike-Share Cyclists Wears Helmet

Riders all virtuously wearing their helmets when the Hubway bike-sharing program launched last summer (AP photo)
Riders all virtuously wearing their helmets when the Hubway bike-sharing program launched last summer (AP photo)

Whenever I see bikers not wearing helmets, I feel a fierce urge to take them on a tour of the kind of head-injury wards where my mother spent 20 months after a devastating car accident. "See these mute, paralyzed people staring all day long at nothing?" I imagine saying. "This could be you."

End of rant. It was prompted by a study just out from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center finding that bike-sharing programs, laudable as they are for other reasons, seem to prompt riders to travel bare-headed. From the press release:

BOSTON – A national rise in public bike sharing programs could mean less air pollution and more exercise, an environmental and health win-win for people in the cities that host them, but according to researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, more than 80 percent of bike share riders are putting themselves at significant health risk by not wearing helmets.

“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,” says lead author and emergency medicine physician Christopher Fischer, MD.

Also:

The study examined the Capital Bike share program that began in the Washington, DC area in September, 2010 and Boston’s Hubway bike share program launched in July, 2011 with 61 kiosk locations and 600 bikes.

Fischer and team used trained observers to collect data on adult cyclist helmet usage in Boston and Washington over 43 observation periods totaling more than 50 hours. The sites were located near bike rental kiosks but all bikers, whether they rented bikes or rode their own, were recorded. More than 3,000 bicyclists were observed.

“We were surprised to find that of all bicyclists, more than half rode without helmets,” says Fischer. “But it was even more concerning to learn that four out of five bike share riders were out there without helmets.”

The bike share programs encourage helmets but don't require them. Readers, solutions?

This program aired on April 30, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.

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