British Columbia Bicycle Helmet Study

In a project funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, HSRC is currently studying the effect of a Canadian bicycle helmet law. In 1996, the province of British Columbia became the first North American province or state to require bicycle helmet use by riders of all ages on a public thoroughfare. Prior to implementation of that law HSRC researchers obtained observational data on helmet use by a representative sample of bicyclists at 120 locations in 17 randomly selected communities throughout the Province. During the summer of 1999 we revisited most of the original communities and observation sites at the same time of day and week to determine current helmet use rates. At these locations, 3,950 bicyclists were observed in 1995 and 4,246 in 1999.

There was a substantial increase in helmet use following the implementation of the comprehensive helmet law - from an overall wearing rate of 46 percent in 1995 to 70 percent in 1999. Helmet use among cyclists on commuter routes increased from 60 percent to 75 percent; at recreational locations use increased from 48 percent to 74 percent; use by bicyclists observed in neighborhoods increased from 39 percent to 72 percent. Rates of incorrect helmet use remained the same at about 8 percent. In general, the law tended to have a leveling effect, increasing use to a greater extent in those subpopulations where it was lowest prior to the law.

We are now collecting injury data in order to determine whether, and if so how much, head injuries decreased in conjunction with the dramatic increase in helmet use that followed enactment of the helmet law. In addition, we are looking at whether bicycling decreased following implementation of the helmet law, as has been reported in Australia.