Bike sharing programs lack key safety feature: Helmets

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.”

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  1. After reading this I think I will start to use my helmet more often.

  2. Katie Renz

    I don’t have a helmet and that’s one of the reasons I haven’t rented a bike. Maybe in the future there will be a way for people to rent helmets along with a bike.

  3. I always wear my helmet when I ride my bike, but I don’t think I would want to wear a rented helmet – ew.

  4. I always wear my helmet when riding my bike. It’s like wearing a safety belt, now–it would feel odd not to be wearing it.

  5. In 2007 I had a serious spill from my bike. I was wearing my helmet, a long-time habit. The helmet cracked. I broke 3 ribs and punctured my lung, was in the hospital for a week. My doctor told me, “If you had not been wearing your helmut you would be dead today — or wish you were.” I tell that story to everyone I can who rides a bike or motorcycle.

  6. Julie Nakis

    A great reminder for everyone to wear a helmet while biking. I often see families and groups of friends riding Divvy bikes without helmets, and I think many have a lapse in judgement when taking part in a fun group ride that they forget safety measures.

  7. Toni Mooney Gardner July 16, 2014 at 12:00 pm · Reply

    Thanks for reiterating the importance of wearing a helmet and bike safety.

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About the Author

Holly Brenza
Holly Brenza

Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator on the content team at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.