Do bike helmets work?

They may muss your hair, but the numbers show helmets save lives.

Credit: Robert Willis

They may mess up your hair, but the numbers show bike helmets save lives—and wants to make sure you have one

Bike helmets—the hardware we love or hate. We’ve been told we should wear them, but many of us don’t.

The reasons why people don’t don the domes are many. As the blogger for, I’ve talked to many people about the subject and have received numerous online comments about helmet use.

‘I don’t want helmet hair!’

Some Vancouverites find that bike helmets don’t conform to their aesthetic philosophy. Ms. D, a friend of mine who works in the fashion industry, owns a “helmet” but doesn’t always wear it. I say “helmet” because if you take a look at it (see picture), the only safety muster it could pass would be perhaps the 1931 CFL season regulations for helmet gear (though not even the CFL is perhaps as old as this helmet).

“I am not so vain that I won’t wear a helmet on certain occasions,” says D. “It’s just hard to find one that looks just right and doesn’t completely flatten my already pathetic hair. I try hard to have a somewhat pulled-together appearance, and helmets just dash all hopes and dreams.”

‘But do bike helmets really work?’

I’ve also heard the argument that bike helmets don’t actually protect you from impact. But there’s a lot of evidence to the contrary.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information tells us, “Helmet use reduces the risk of serious head injury by 60–88 percent.”

According to the journal Injury Prevention, “Approximately 107,000 BRHIs [bicycle related head injuries] could have been prevented in 1997 in the United States. These preventable injuries and deaths represent an estimated $81 million in direct and $2.3 billion in indirect health costs.” (Corresponding data for Canada wasn’t available.)

That’s a lot of money that could have easily been saved. Further, The Community Against Preventable Injuries in BC reports that “for every $1 spent on a helmet, there is a subsequent savings of $29 in injury costs.”


Guerrilla helmet campaign hits Vancouver Sunday, June 13

Statistics aside, cyclists themselves decide if they want to follow the law and wear a helmet while riding. This weekend is repeating a campaign where we hang 20 bike helmets from bike racks across the city. You’ll know them by the “You’re probably not expecting to need a helmet today” stickers stuck to them.

The idea is to encourage discussion and possibly change people’s behaviours around helmet use.

Who knows, you non-helmet wearers might just test drive one of these helmets and discover they aren’t really all that bad after all.



Robert Willis

Robert (robot) Willis is a freelance journalist and blogger for You can follow him on Twitter at @Preventable and @mrrobertrobot. Look out for his soon-to-be-launched blog (also known as The Community Against Preventable Injuries) is a province-wide, multi-partner organization raising awareness, transforming attitudes and ultimately changing behaviours, with the goal to significantly reduce the number and severity of preventable injuries in BC.