Best Practices to Prevent Bicycle Injuries

September 2002

The Problem

In Minnesota, nearly 5,000 people were treated for bicycle injuries in 1999 in hospitals or emergency departments, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Health. Nearly 500 Minnesota bicyclists were injured in crashes with motor vehicles. The average bicycle injury in Minnesota costs $49,000, including hospitalization, loss of productivity, and pain and suffering. Nationwide in 1997, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 567,000 people were injured on bicycles and 813 died. Young people were particularly affected: two-thirds of the injuries and 31% of the deaths were children or youth under 16.


Prevention Strategies

    Promote bicycle helmet use among parents and children

    National data show that in the event of a crash, wearing a bicycle helmet reduces the risk of brain injury by at least 85% If each rider wore a helmet, an estimated 500 bicycle-related fatalities and 151,000 nonfatal head injuries would be prevented each year. This amounts to one death per day and one injury every four minutes.

    The most successful programs to increase helmet use combine education with helmet giveaways or discount programs and state or local legislation requiring helmet use. Some evidence suggests that legislative efforts are more cost effective than school- or community-based programs. Promising strategies, for which research is not conclusive, include peer education and counseling by physicians.

    To obtain funding for distribution of helmets, consider the following:

    • Use Community Health Services funds or Maternal and Child Health Special Projects (MCHSP) grants.
    • Contact insurance companies to see if they subsidize helmets.
    • Contact retailer or service organizations about paying for helmets, and give them credit and publicity when distributing the helmets.

    Promote social norm change regarding helmet wearing

    For strategy ideas, read Barriers to Bicycle Helmet Use, an article in the July 2001 issue of Pediatrics. Authors from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, released the results of their survey of 2,000 school children and adults on barriers to bicycle helmet use. The survey found that:

    • There was no significant difference in helmet use between the genders;
    • The age groups with the lowest helmet use were male and female adolescents between the ages of 11 and 19 years and adults between 30 and 39 years;
    • The most common reasons for not wearing a helmet were "uncomfortable," "annoying," "it's hot," "don't need it," and "don't own one"; and
    • Even though most respondents indicated that helmets provide "moderate" or "great" protection from head injury, most adolescents and adults indicated that there was only a "slight risk" of head injury when bicycling without a helmet.
    • Based on their results, the authors made these suggestions to increase bicycle helmet use:
    • target 11- to 19-year-old adolescents and 30- to 39-year-old adults;
    • redesign helmets to address comfort, ventilation, and fashion;
    • stress the importance of parental example;
    • educate adolescents in particular on the protection from head injury that helmets offer;and
    • educate the public in general about the risks and severity of head injury from bicycle accidents.

    Teach bike safety in schools and communities

    Law enforcement or state patrol staff members can conduct bicycle safety training at schools, city halls, police departments, or parking lots. Staff of bike repair shops can offer equipment checks.


    Teach motor vehicle drivers to watch for and be aware of bicyclists

    Help in education of both new and current car drivers, to make them aware of bicyclists sharing he roadway.

    Enforce traffic laws; cite bicyclists

    Empower state and local law enforcement officials to enforce laws that apply to bicyclists.

    • Conduct a community audit of streets and highways to identify where there are barriers to walking or biking.
    • Support restricted youth access to alcohol.
    • Create safe and convenient crossings. Design streets with multiple, well-marked crossings to help pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists see one another and anticipate each other's actions.
    • Make streets more bicycle-friendly by installing bike lanes and other infrastructure to allow bicyclists to more safely share the road with motorists.
    • Build more trails along natural corridors, utility easements, canals and parkways, abandoned rail lines, and other appropriate locations.
    • Slow down motor vehicles. Speeding is a major concern for pedestrians and bicyclists. Many traffic-calming measures can lower vehicle speeds to safer levels.
    • Develop safe routes to school. Determine the safest routes and give parents maps and information about the benefits of physical activity to encourage their children to walk or bike to school.

Links

(Search these sites for information related to the prevention of Bicycle Injuries)

*There may be links on this site that are external to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). The MDH is not responsible for the content of external sites, nor does it endorse or guarantee the services or information described or offered on external sites.

Bike Helmet Safety Institute: Learn the importance of wearing a helmet when bicycling and what to look for when purchasing a helmet. www.bhsi.org/
Injury and Violence Prevention Links: Access other sites that are related to injury and violence prevention. www.health.state.mn.us/injury/links.cfm
National Bike Safety Network, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Find information on bike safety programs, legislation, and research. www.cdc.gov/ncipc/bike


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