Bicycle Safety Statistics May Surprise You

Helmets are key when it comes to injury prevention.

May 06, 2019

May is National Bike Month, and with bicycle-related deaths peaking in the summer months, this an ideal time to adopt some proven injury-prevention strategies before sharing the road with motor vehicles.

The popularity of bicycling for exercise, recreation and commuting continues to grow. Unfortunately, injuries and fatalities for all vulnerable road users also are growing. Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA)finds that adults are more likely than children to die in a bicyclist-motor vehicle crash, with adults accounting for 88% of bicyclist fatalities.

One-third of non-fatal bicyclist injuries are to the head. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), a majority of the 80,000 cycling-related head injuries treated in emergency rooms each year are brain injuries.

GHSA: Percent of U.S. Bicyclist Fatalities by Helmet Use, 2015 


The GHSA recommends a “Three E” approach – engineering, education and enforcement – for bicycle safety. An essential component of education is wearing a properly fitted helmet. A bike helmet is a cyclist’s best line of defense, reducing risk of head injury by more than 50%. For severe head injuries, the protective benefit is even higher.

Consumer Reports notes, “When it’s on your head correctly, it could save your life.”

Until recently, helmet ratings only tested for extreme injuries, like skull fractures, and didn’t assess more common but less-severe impacts that can still result in concussions and other injuries. A new ratings program based on research by Virginia Tech University and the IIHS measures for these more common impacts.

“Our goal with these ratings is to give cyclists an evidence-based tool for making informed decisions about how to reduce their risk of injury. We also hope manufacturers will use the information to make improvements,” says Steve Rowson, director of the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab and an associate professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics.

Notably, cost is not a good predictor of performance, but helmet style seems to play a role. So-called road helmets, which have an elongated, aerodynamic shape, tend to perform better than round “urban” helmets with fewer vents and thicker shells.

Alarmingly, more than half of adults in the U.S. report never wearing a helmet, and more than half of cyclists killed in crashes in 2016 were not wearing one.

“As more people choose the bicycle as a mode of transportation, better helmet design is one of the tools that can be used to address the increasing number of cycling injuries,” says David Zuby, chief research officer at IIHS and a frequent bike commuter.

Public awareness is necessary for broad prevention and safety measures, such as driving safe and sober, reducing speed and distractions, wearing seat belts, properly fitting bicycle helmets and more.

In 2018 alone, hospital-based ThinkFirst chapters properly fitted nearly 20,000 people with new helmets. Whether for exercise, recreation or transportation, as we say at ThinkFirst, “Use your mind to protect your body; wear a helmet every time you ride.”

About ThinkFirst
ThinkFirst National Injury Prevention Foundation education programs, in collaboration with the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, increase public awareness of how traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries occur and how injuries affect the body. For more information visit thinkfirst.org

Debby Gerhardstein

Debby Gerhardstein is executive director of ThinkFirst National Injury Prevention Foundation. ThinkFirst is a member of the Road to Zero Coalition, which aims to eliminate roadway fatalities by 2050.

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