Several news outlets yesterday reported on a new study about cities with bike-share programs and the rate of head injuries. Unfortunately, reporters opted for sensationalism over accuracy. Headlines like “Study: Greater Risk of Head Injuries In Cities With Bike Share Programs” and “Bike-Share Programs Linked to Increased Brain Injuries: Study” evoke an immediate, negative response: Bike-sharing programs must be bad. The reaction might be warranted if those headlines told the whole story, but they don’t.
The American Journal of Public Health published the conclusions of a team of researchers who studied five cities before and after they implemented bike-share programs and compared data about injuries with data from five cities that don’t have bike-sharing. The researchers found that in the cities with bike-share programs, there were more head injuries as a proportion of total bike injuries after the program than before it.
That’s not the end of the research, though. The study also found that head injuries and total injuries declined by as much as 28% in the cities with bike-share programs. Cities without bike-sharing showed a slight increase in overall injuries and a slight decrease in head injuries.
So what does all this mean? Boston, Massachusetts has a thriving bike-share program called Hubway. A Boston Magazine article speculated on possible reasons for the findings. First, as the study noted, bike-share riders are less likely to wear helmets. They are casual riders who may not own their own helmet, and helmets don’t come with the bike (although you can rent them for a fee in some cities). The Atlantic’s CityLab also ran an article calling out other media outlets for their inaccurate and alarmist headlines. It suggested that that head injuries may be a greater proportion of overall bike-related injuries (which, don’t forget, decreased significantly in bike-share cities) because bike-share bicycles have heavy frames and wide tires. These heavy-frame bikes are safer than lightweight models. If fewer people went to the ER for broken bones, CityLab surmises, it may make head injuries look more frequent.
Many cyclists and bicycle safety advocates say there is safety in numbers, and perhaps the study’s findings support this theory. Both articles suggest that the more cyclists there are on the road, the more cars become used to accommodating them, leading to fewer injuries overall.
The Virginia Beach area has many cyclists and unfortunately many bicycle-related injuries. Our firm’s experience with victims of bicycle accidents has led us to take a strong stance on bicycle safety and helmet use. Bike-sharing programs have had generally positive effects on communities. If the Virginia Beach or Hampton Roads community at large decides to join the growing number of cities with bike-sharing programs, they should take it a step further and implement a helmet-sharing program. Working out the logistics of such a program would require minimal resources compared to what could be saved by a potentially significant reduction in bicycle-related head injuries.
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