Bike sharing programs lack key safety feature: Helmets
Most individuals who incur head injuries due to bike-related accidents or crashes chose to ride without a helmet, says Dr. Ellen Omi, trauma surgeon at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Chicago. In fact, the National Injury Prevention Foundation’s ThinkFirst reports that only 20 to 25 percent of all bicyclists wear helmets, even though properly fitted bicycle helmets are known to reduce the risk of head injury by as much as 87 percent.
These statistics continue to raise safety concerns now that more and more cities in the United States are implementing bike-sharing programs. Typically, these programs do not provide helmets with the rentals.
In June 2013, Chicago launched Divvy, a bike-sharing program with 3,000 bicycles that can be rented 24 hours a day and returned to any of the 300 stations around the city. The initiative was launched to give Chicagoans a simple-to-use and budget-friendly mode of transportation. However, helmet rentals are not part of the program. “These programs are great because they promote physical activity, but at the same time, they should really offer helmets on site because this is a matter of public safety,” Dr. Omi says.
In a new study published online in June on the website of the American Journal of Public Health, researchers examined bike-injury statistics and compared bike-sharing cities to non-bike sharing cities. They determined that the proportion of head injuries to all other injuries from bicycle accidents increased nearly 8 percent in cities with bike-sharing programs. In cities not offering bike-sharing, head injuries decreased about 4 percent during the 36-month period of the study.
While Dr. Omi says that bike riders most commonly come to hospital emergency departments with non-life-threatening injuries such as fractured arms and ribs, she has treated her share of head injuries from cycling.
“People have been transported to our medical center with severe brain injuries, and these are usually long term. Depending on the severity of the head injury, a patient can become permanently disabled or even die,” Dr. Omi states. ThinkFirst reports that nearly 70 percent of all fatal bicycle crashes involve head injuries.
“Whether someone is pedaling his or her own bike or participating in a bike-sharing program, wearing a helmet is vital to protecting the head from serious injury” Dr. Omi says. “Bike sharing is an activity that can have overall health benefits. Not using a helmet to minimize risk for injury is incompatible with a healthy exercise.”
About the Author
Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator at Advocate Health Care in Downers Grove. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks and playing with her dog, Bear and cats, Demi and Elle.