Bicycle Helmet Laws Save Children’s Lives: Study

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By: Martha Garcia | Published: May 30th, 2013

New research suggests that bicycle helmet laws may prevent more head injuries and deaths than previously thought, contradicting another recent study that saw little impact from bicycle helmet legislation. 

A new cross-sectional study published in the Journal of Pediatrics indicates that states with laws requiring use of bicycle helmets had a 20% lower fatality rate than states with no helmet laws in place.

The study assessed data from bicyclists under the age of 16 who died between January 1999 through December 2010. The information was taken from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and studied by Dr. William Meehan and his team from Boston Children’s Hospital.

The researchers compared fatality rates among specific state populations comparing fatalities sustained by children under the age of 16 in states with and without the bicycle helmet laws. They accounted for other contributing factors including elderly driving laws, blood alcohol level and household income.

In total, 1,612 fatalities were found within the 16 states that had bicycle helmet laws when the study began in 1999. Researchers determined the states with the helmet laws had lower rates of child fatalities sustained by bicycle accidents.

“Bicycle helmet safety laws are associated with a lower incidence of fatalities in child cyclists involved in bicycle–motor vehicle collisions,” said Meehan.

Prior Studies Offer Conflicting Results

The findings come shortly after another study involving Canadian laws found that the bicycle helmet legislation had no impact on child fatalities. That research was published earlier this month in the British Medical Journal, examining data from 10 Canadian provinces and territories between 1994 and 2003, with six of the provinces implementing laws mandating helmets while cycling.

The study found a decline in the injury rates among Canadian provinces with bicycle helmet legislature in place. However, researchers indicated that the decrease was not attributed to the helmet legislation, as injury rates were already declining when the legislation was enacted, more over the rates did not continue to decline after legislation was in place.

The researchers indicated that the legislation had no significant bearing on the injury rates, instead suggesting that other factors, such as increased public education on bicycle safety, safe riding media campaigns and wider availability of subsidized helmets, may have all played a role in the decrease.

More than 900 people die each year from bicycle collisions, approximately three-quarters of those fatalities were the result of a head injury.

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