Austin bicycle helmet study completed

Results of a year-long hospital emergency-room survey in Austin find that bicyclists are 65% to 88% less likely to get a head injury if they're wearing a helmet while riding a bicycle.

The full report from 7 area hospitals run by Brackenridge Hospital and St. David's HealthCare will be issued in a couple of weeks.

The study was designed to put some hard information into the debate that ensued when a mandatory helmet law for adults was put before the Austin City Council. Opponents charged, among other things, that the law diverts attention away from the need for bicycle lanes and more training for cyclists and motorists.

The study

From December 2006 to December 2007, doctors interviewed 216 bicycle accident victims. They were asked where they were riding, how fast they were going, what the traffic flow around them was like and if they were wearing helmets.

Interviewed by KVUE, Dr. P.J. Milling said that helmet use doesn't help much for cyclists if they're hit by a motor vehicle travelling at high speeds.

“If you get hit by a car going 70-miles an hour a helmet is not going to make a huge difference it might, I think it makes a bigger difference on surface streets where it's protecting the head from hitting a pole or hitting the street when you're going a little slower.

“But I don't want people to take from that they shouldn't wear helmets on 360 and 620, because the cars aren't the only issue. (Cyclists) could hit a rock and fall off of their bike and hit a tree or something, so in that case I think the helmet would provide a lot of protection for them.”

Safe streets

During this “cooling off” period in the helmet debate, bicycling advocates for the past year in Austin have been working on the Austin Streets Smarts Task Force, which is designed to improve bicyclists and motorists safety. Their next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 11 at city hall. A leading opponent of the mandatory helmet law, the League of Bicycling Voters, has been involved in the study.

The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute keeps a record of all helmet laws in the US. Dallas is the only Texas municipality that requires helmet use for everyone; eight other cities, including Austin, require helmets for younger riders.

See also: Bike helmet debate in Austin sparks study

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