healthHealth and Medicine

Yes, Wearing A Bike Helmet Really Does Reduce Your Risk Of Injury


Stephen Luntz

Stephen has a science degree with a major in physics, an arts degree with majors in English Literature and History and Philosophy of Science and a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication.

Freelance Writer

bike helmet

There really is a reason for both children and adults to wear helmets when cycling, Zorandim/Shutterstock

A meta-study of research covering 64,000 cycling accidents has provided overwhelming evidence that bicycle helmets reduce both death and injury. The findings also refute the claim that the benefits to the head are balanced by increased damage to the neck, and find that serious head injuries are reduced by almosy 70 percent with a helmet.

It would seem obvious that anyone who runs into trouble on a two-wheeled vehicle will be better off with something between their skull and the road. However, the benefits of bicycle helmets have become an area of considerable controversy.


Most of the heat comes from the small number of places, particularly Australia and New Zealand, where the wearing of helmets while riding is compulsory. Riders who prefer to feel the wind in their hair, or just don't like to be told what to do, resent the laws. As with so many other issues, the science became a victim of politics, with opponents of legislation fiercely promoting claims that helmets are of little benefit and may actually be harmful.

The question is complicated further by evidence that forcing people to wear helmets caused some cyclists to stop riding. Even if helmets save lives, some argue, laws that push people into less healthy and more polluting forms of transport do more harm than good.

Realizing that some of the widely-quoted research was too small-scale to be reliable, Dr Jake Olivier of the University of New South Wales set out to collect the best evidence available. He drew together 40 peer-reviewed studies on the topic, which has been published in the International Journal of Epidemiology

Olivier found that head injuries are 51 percent lower among cyclists who wear helmets. Serious head injuries are 69 percent less likely with a helmet, and the risk of being killed is about one third as high for helmet wearers. Neck injuries do not seem to be more common with helmets, and are usually sufficiently minor for bike riders that a small increase would barely register compared to head injury reductions.


Olivier presented his findings at the Safety 2016 conference in Finland this week. In a combative interview with Fairfax media, Professor Raphael Grzebieta, a colleague of Olivier's, said: “This study emphatically proves that bicycle helmets are efficacious in reducing brain trauma in either single-vehicle falls or impacts with motor vehicles. There is a silent majority that agree they are efficacious, but there is also a small minority group that base their opinions on junk science... and they will go out of their way to try and prove that helmets don't reduce brain injuries.”

This paper does not shed any light on the harder question of whether mandatory helmet laws discourage riders, and Olivier acknowledges that safe riding conditions like bike lanes may be more important. Nevertheless, Olivier has previously cast doubt on the claims helmets are a major deterent to cycling, and the latest work does show that anyone choosing to ride without a helmet isn't using their head.


healthHealth and Medicine
  • tag
  • death,

  • injury,

  • evidence,

  • Public health,

  • safety,

  • protection,

  • bicycling helmets,

  • cycling safety