Back in 2010, we wrote about suggestions that doing away with mandatory bike helmet laws would encourage more people to ride bikes and pointed out that the safety benefits of bike helmets was debatable.
To try to settle the debate, researchers from the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia looked at hospitalization rates for bike injuries in Canada. Helmets are compulsory in some Canadian provinces but not in others. So, the researchers compared both head and body injuries in regions with and without compulsory helmet legislation.
Their study, reported in the British Medical Journal, found no difference in head injury rates between the provinces where helmets are compulsory and those in which they are not.
Clearly, in a particular individual accident, a helmet can make all the difference. What seems to be happening is that riders wearing helmets take more risks and, so, have more accidents. The negative effect of the riskier behaviour balances out the benefit of wearing helmets.
This idea is supported by the other finding of the study – that female riders have fewer serious accidents than men. The researchers suggest that the determining factor is, again, the riskiness of the rider’s behaviour.
Our conclusion: as an individual, you definitely should wear a helmet but, as a society, there’s no point in making it compulsory – and don’t take unnecessary risks.