More data on helmets

This just published from our cycling allies in the Motor City.  Note, this data is certainly not conclusive, but since more data is always better than less, I thought I would share it.

Michigan Bicycle-Vehicle Crashes: Helmet vs. no-helmet

We produced a report showing bicycle crashes from 2004 through 2009  in Michigan and the degree of injury for each cyclist. We ran the report for cyclists with and without helmets.

For the majority of crashes it is not known whether the cyclist was wearing a helmet. We dropped those numbers. And in some cases, the police report said the cyclist was wearing a safety belt. We ignored those as well.

Only 40% of the police crash reports properly reported whether the cyclist was wearing a helmet or not. That shouldn’t be acceptable. Do we need an improved police reporting form or more training? We’re not sure.

But among those crashes that were properly reported, about 17% said the bicyclist was wearing a helmet in the crash. That said, it certainly supports the idea that cycling is safe, helmet or not.

Michigan Bicycle Crashes, 2004 – 2009

Degree of injury Helmet No helmet
Killed 1.4% 1.5%
Incapacitating 13% 11%
Non-incapacitating 38% 37%
Possible 36% 37%
No injury 10% 13%
Unknown/error 0.8% 1.1%

Now, let’s look at just the adult cyclists 18 and older. Helmets were worn in about 23% of the crashes.

Michigan Bicycle Crashes, 2004 – 2009, Adults only

Degree of injury Helmet No helmet
Killed 1.5% 1.9%
Incapacitating 15% 12%
Non-incapacitating 37% 35%
Possible 36% 39%
No injury 10% 12%
Unknown/error 0.6% 0.7%

One conclusion to make is that there isn’t much difference in injury severity between those wearing a helmet and those that are not. There’s a slightly higher fatality rather for non-helment wearers but helmeted cyclist do suffer more injuries overall.

However, there’s not enough information to say these differences are due to helmet use.  Experience, risk taking, riding styles, rural vs. urban roads and more all play a role in the types of crashes that occur. A study would need to remove those factors to really determine the affect helmets have on injury severity.


About daveschlabowske

Cyclechic advocate from Milwaukee
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5 Responses to More data on helmets

  1. Don I. says:

    It would seem to me that police reports are not necessarily a very accurate measure of accident occurrence. Many accidents never have police involvement, such as a cyclist crashing on their own, without involvement from an automobile. Beyond the lack of many officers to even properly record helmet usage, these initial reports are probably not assessing the real scope of many of these injuries. It is very common for injuries to go underestimated or even undetected beyond the immediate, post-accident window in which these reports are recorded.

    It’s certainly interesting to observe trends in data like this, but it really has no bearing on my personal decision to wear a helmet. I have been involved in a couple of incidents where the helmet I was wearing was damaged or destroyed, and with enough force that I shudder to think how my skull would have fared had it been unprotected. I know this is a common experience for many cyclists, and honestly, that’s more than enough for me.

  2. wiscoDude says:

    I’m interested in speed at time of the accident. Dave, have any data on that?

    I d0n’t wear a helmet when I putz around town at ~10 mph, but when in a hurry or on the fast bike, I do.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      I don’t have that sort of data, but I agree with your implication: It is more dangerous to ride fast, in groups, race, on shared roads with motor vehicles moving at high speeds, etc., than it is to ride slowly around town. I would be willing to bet the data supports that assumption. I know my annecdotal experience and years of looking at crash locations does. That is why I wear a helmet for fast rides on my race bike, mtb rides, and rides in the suburbs/country, but I typically don’t riding around Milwaukee on my upright 5 spd.

  3. Russell says:

    Too bad there’s no mention if the injuries were head related. There’s no doubt a helmet will help prevent or lessen some head injuries, but will do nothing in the case of a scraped knee.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Certainly true, and as I have always said, everyone is safer wearing a helmet no matter what they are doing, riding a bike inlcuded. This certainly does not offer a complete picture of these crashes, it is just more data, which always helps.

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