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7 of 10 Commuters Using Capital Bikeshare Forgo Helmets

Capital Bike Share Study Photo

This young woman is wearing a helmet while she rides a Capital Bikeshare bike, but a Georgetown study finds most commuters using the rental system don't.

June 15, 2012 – People who use Capital Bikeshare may be helping the environment, but a recent Georgetown study shows they are not likely to wear helmets when they ride the bikes.

Researchers at Georgetown’s School of Nursing & Health Studies (NHS) compared the rate of helmet use for Bikeshare riders versus private cyclists. 

The study, published yesterday in the American Journal of Public Health, shows that 7 in 10 Bikeshare users don’t wear helmets, putting them at greater risk.

Reducing Risk

Helmet use is the most important safety intervention for cyclists, notes lead author John Kraemer, assistant professor of health systems administration at NHS.

“Bikers can’t always control the environment around them, but they can control whether they wear a helmet,” he says. “Helmets greatly reduce the risk of injury to both the brain and the face – even if a cyclist is hit by a car.”

Kraemer also notes that biking is a healthy activity that improves heart health and reduces air pollution.

“We want to encourage it, but we also want to be sure riders are as protected as possible should they be in a crash,” he says.

Low Helmet Use

Capital Bikeshare, one of the largest bicycle sharing programs in the United States, offers bike rentals from more than 160 stations across Washington, D.C., and Arlington, Va. Bikes may be rented for a day, three days, a month or a year, and then returned to the rider’s most convenient station.

“The most surprising finding was the relatively low use of helmets among commuters using Bikeshare,” Kraemer says. “We figured that casual users would be unlikely to wear helmets because many are tourists. But we thought that commuters – people who plan their rides – would be more likely to wear helmets.”

Out of the total 2,297 cyclists the researchers observed in a 30-day period, 10 percent of commuters and 12 percent of casual riders were Bikeshare users. A total of 70 percent of commuters on private bicycles wore helmets, compared to only 33.1 percent of Bikeshare commuters.

Awareness Opportunity

Kraemer sees an opportunity for increased helmet use among commuters, who are both likely to be more frequent riders and more susceptible to interventions. Capital Bikeshare already advocates helmet use on its website and has launched pilot programs to distribute helmets through certain hotels when people sign up.  

Researchers say they plan to begin gathering information about why riders, especially commuters, don’t wear helmets.

Kraemer is also a part of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University Law Center.

Other authors on the study are Jason Roffenbender, research associate with the human science department at NHS, and Laura Anderko, who holds NHS’ Robert and Kathleen Scanlon Chair in Values Based Health Care.

Georgetown University37th and O Streets, N.W., Washington D.C. 20057(202) 687.0100

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