While it is not uncommon to see helmetless bicycle riders in the Gaithersburg, Annapolis and Washington, D.C., areas, it is more and more becoming less accepted as a typical practice for even causal cyclists not to wear a protective cycling helmet. Here in Maryland, there are numerous bicycle and pedestrian accidents involving cars and commercial vehicle, so it goes without saying that bike riders in the know would go to great lengths to outfit themselves with proper safety equipment.
Still, as personal injury lawyers practicing in the Baltimore area, we find it difficult to believe that asome people would choose to risk their health, not to mention their life, by not wearing an approved form of head protection against the potential of a traffic-related crash. Of course, times have changed over the past several decades and bicycle helmets have become much more evident in their use all around the U.S. But for people in such a densely populated urban area like ours, one would hope that there would be more adherents than scoffers.
We mention this because of an article we ran across detailing a study that was made in the Boston area concerning members of the public who took advantage of that city’s bike-sharing program. What one might have expected, especially from those who opt to ride a bicycle in a city environment, is a high percentage of helmet use. However, the results of the study showed that bike-share participants who wore helmets were severely under-represented versus non-wearers. Considering the frequent severity of bicycle-related personal injuries, this is rather disconcerting.
According to the study, put out by the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, found that those a preponderance of individuals who availed themselves of the local bike-sharing programs actively chose to go bare-headed. In that study, which reminded readers that head injuries make up approximately 30 percent of all bicycle injuries (and nearly 75 percent of all bike-related fatalities), researchers used trained observers to collect helmet wearing data vis-à-vis adult helmet usage in Boston and Washington, D.C.
Based on more than 40 observation periods, adding up to over 50hrs of monitoring, more than 3,000 bike-share participants, as well as bike owners with their own cycles, were observed at bike rental kiosks. The results from that study showed that over half of all bikers, bike-share participants and bike-owners included, over 50 percent did not use a helmet. More distressing, especially to people like ourselves who understand all too well the potential results of a cycling accident, was that nearly 80 percent of bike-share riders chose not to use a helmet, even though they are offered by the program.
Now, some might say that a high incidence of non-helmet use among bike-share program participants should not be surprising considering the apparently inconvenience of carrying around one’s own helmet when not actually using a bike, but is convenience valued more highly than personal safety? While it is a personal choice, one would hope that thinking adults would give more thought to the consequences of not wearing protective headgear.
Of course, in other parts of the world where bicycle helmets are mandatory, bike-share programs have apparently suffered a lack of participation if only because of the convenience issue. In any case, when we see a bicyclist not wearing a helmet, we are concerned that they may not understand the impact of their actions should they take a bad spill or be hit by a car or commercial delivery truck. At the very least, parents who ride a bike need to set a good example for their children. We can only hope that society promotes better safety practices going forward, to help reduce the number of debilitating closed-head injuries and long-term disability caused by bicycle accidents.
Study Finds Only 1 In 5 Bike-Share Cyclists Wears Helmet, WBUR.org, April 30, 2012