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Keeping kids safe on bikes, skateboards and more: New research shows helmet laws reduce head injuries

August 21, 2014
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New research from CFRI and BC Injury Research & Prevention Unit (BCIRPU) shows that helmet laws really do make a difference. The study, which appears in the July issue of Chronic Diseases and Injuries in Canada, shows Canadian children living in areas with laws mandating helmet use were more than twice as likely to wear helmets and were significantly less likely to suffer from head injuries.

Researchers analyzed data from close to 30,000 children who were treated at Canadian emergency rooms for injuries related to wheeled non-motorized activities from 2004 to 2009. Wheeled non-motorized activities include cycling, skateboarding, scooter riding, and inline skating.

“This is the first study to look at national data and to compare injuries related to a wide-range of popular wheeled activities,” says study co-author Dr. Mariana Brussoni. “Our findings provide strong support for the importance of helmet laws in keeping children safe.”

Dr. Brussoni is a CFRI Scientist, Academic Scientist with the BC Injury Research & Prevention Unit, the Director of the Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program (CHIRRP) at BC Children’s Hospital and Assistant Professor with the UBC Department of Pediatrics. CHIRRP collects records of injuries to children at 15 hospital emergency rooms across Canada, and gathered the data used in this study.

In addition to finding that children in areas with helmet laws were more than twice as likely to wear helmets, researchers discovered that all children who wore helmets, regardless of age or sex, were less likely to experience a head injury than those who didn’t. Patients who were admitted to the hospital because of the severity of their injuries were 26 per cent less likely to have been wearing a helmet when they got hurt.

Currently, helmet laws are not widespread in Canada. Only six provinces have laws requiring helmet use and the remaining seven provinces and territories do not.

Of the provinces that do require kids to wear helmets, only Nova Scotia mandates helmets for all non-motorized wheeled activities. In the other provinces, kids are only legally required to wear helmets when riding bikes. However, researchers found the proportion of children who suffered serious head injuries was similar across all the activities studied.

“Expanding helmet laws to cover other common childhood wheeled activities would make playtime safer for kids across Canada,” says Dr. Brussoni. “Helmet laws that only apply to cycling leave many kids vulnerable to serious injuries that could easily be prevented.”

Injuries caused by recreational activities are a significant burden on the Canadian health care system. More than 40 per cent of injuries to kids and teens treated in emergency rooms are related to sports and recreation. In BC alone, almost 6,000 children and teens were hospitalized for injuries related to non-motorized wheeled activities between 2001 and 2011, leading to over 9 million dollars in medical expenses.

Dr. Brussoni co-authored the study with Dr. Heather Lindsay who was a graduate student in the UBC School of Population & Public Health and an emergency medicine resident at the University of Toronto at the time the paper was written. Dr. Aybaniz Ibrahimova, a research assistant with the BC Injury Research and Prevention Unit, provided support with data analysis.

Read more:

H. Lindsay, M. Brussoni, “Injuries and helmet use related to non-motorized wheeled activities among pediatric patients,” in Chronic Disease and Injuries in Canada, July 2014.