One fifth of injured US cyclists were not wearing a helmet finds new study

The researchers concluded that fatigue and a reduction in cognitive capacity may constitute the first step in burn-out

A new large-scale US study has found that around one in five cyclists who are injured while on their bike are not wearing a helmet, with men and ethnic minorities the least likely to wear a cycle helmet to protect themselves.

Led by researchers at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine & Science, and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, the new study looked at data from the 2002-2012 National Trauma Data Bank, which included information on 76,032 bicyclists (81.1 percent of whom were male and 18.9 percent female) with head or neck injury.

The researchers found that of these cyclists, only 22 percent of adults wore a helmet. Men were less likely to wear a helmet than women (21 percent of males compared to 28 percent of females) and were also more likely to have a more severe injury and a longer stay in hospital or the intensive care unit. They also had a 36 higher chance of death than women.

"It is perhaps not surprising that females were more likely to have worn a helmet than males when involved in an accident. It is not entirely clear, however, why males in general had higher hospital and intensive care unit stay days, and in mortality," commented the authors. "However, our analysis does show that females and males benefited almost equally by wearing a helmet."

The findings also showed that Black and Hispanic cyclists were less likely to wear cycle helmets than Whites and Asian/Pacific Islanders and also more likely to suffer from head and neck injuries in accidents. 

When looking at the groups by age, just 12 percent of those under 17 years of age were wearing a helmet, in contrast to 31.8 percent of adults over 40.

The authors pointed out that younger cyclists have previously described helmets as being "uncomfortable" and "annoying," or that they don't have access to one, which could be why younger age groups were less likely to wear one.

The study does have its limitations, for example, the National Trauma Data Bank is known for its significant underreporting, and no data on the type of helmet worn by participants was available. However, the authors still add that the research, which is published online in the journal Brain Injury, supports the protective effect of helmet use and highlights the need to educate different populations on the protective benefits of helmets.