Helmet safety claims overstated

Thanks  to WABA : “The federal government is withdrawing its long-standing claim that bicycle helmets prevent 85% of head injuries, in response to a petition filed by WABA under the federal Data Quality Act.”

Congratulations to WABA (a Washington, DC, Area Bike advocacy group) for holding the government to account. While this, of course, is not going to end the “helmet wars”, it will hopefully move us back towards evidence-based investigation of bicycling transportation safety.

The particular US government agencies involved are the CDC and NHTSA who confirmed by letter they will stop disseminating the oft-quoted 85% figure. The NHSTA will, however, continue to claim helmets are “the single most important way to prevent head injury resulting from a bicycle crash”.

The WABA article is, by the way, a good explanation of what can go wrong with case-control type statistics that often are the output of public health community researchers. These types of claims are often(always?) behind the most stunning soundbytes, see e.g. cycle-tracks-are-NINE-TIMES-safer-than-roads.

Speaking of helmets, there was a recent long article in bicycling magazine; which is really interesting stuff about the current CPSC-mandated safety standards might be limiting advances that would allow different (different than the omnipresent EPS) materials, and better protection, especially from concussion.

Bike Share / CitiBike and helmets

One doesn’t imagine that bikeshare patrons often have a helmet with them, I didn’t when i visited Madison, WI summer of 2014 and partook of  B Cycle  there.

This is schadenfreude, but apparently last year Prof. Pucher predicted (mentioned below in a NYPost opinion piece) that CitiBike could cause bicyclist fatalities to triple in NYC. There apparently were 20/year in the pre-citibike period. Now thefirst full year crash results are in and there have been zero fatals (in 15Million miles of useage!), and a total of 100 crash reports…

Citi Bike ‘heading’ for a fall July 1, 2013
Mayor Bloomberg is often portrayed as an overprotective nanny, restricting cigarettes and soda sizes. So what about a bike-share program that lets novice riders loose on New York’s busy streets without helmets?
About 20 cyclists are killed in accidents in New York City each year, but Rutgers University Professor John Pucher says the number of injuries and fatalities could triple in the Citi Bike program’s first year. So far, there have been reports of only three minor accidents involving Citi Bikes.
Bloomberg spokesman John McCarthy says that the city has created hundreds of miles of bike lanes to protect cyclists and that enforcing helmet use would be impractical.
Under state law, only delivery riders and children under 14 are required to wear helmets.

BHSI

This tidbit was interesting, I was unaware the BHSI was a sub-association of WABA, and interesting take about the slowing trend:

In 2013 the pace of new helmet laws has slowed to almost zero. Attempts to extend laws to cover adults have been unsuccessful. Urban riders are increasingly questioning the need for helmets, and certainly the need for helmet laws. WABA, our parent organization, has taken a position opposing the extension of the Maryland state helmet law to adults. A pendulum is swinging. We expect it to swing back eventually as injuries show up, but the positive experience with shared bicycle programs has raised basic questions about the need for helmets, and younger riders are reconsidering. We regard all that as a fashion trend and remain convinced that bike riders need helmets.

And their more general approach to mandatory helmet laws:

We have always been a lot more enthusiastic about promoting voluntary use of helmets than promoting laws, and it would appear from the list above that most U.S. states and localities are too. Even seatbelt laws that have been around for a long time are mostly secondary offense laws limiting enforcement to occasions when a driver has been stopped for something else. Helmet laws can be useful, but given the problems with enforcing them they will probably not work well in most places until more riders have accepted the need for wearing a helmet. So we favor a stronger push for voluntary usage than for passing new helmet laws, and our Web site has always reflected that attitude.

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