Science: Brain Injuries Have Spiked In Cities With Bike-Sharing Programs

If you’ve lived in a large American city the last couple years, you may have noticed large numbers of bicyclers lollygagging down the road on odd-looking, short-term rentals from the local bike-sharing program.

You may have also noticed that these riders don’t tend to be wearing helmets.

Not too surprisingly, researchers have connected a big increase in brain injuries (and head injuries in general) with the rise of urban bike-sharing programs, reports Washington D.C. Fox affiliate WTTG.

In a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, a group of researchers pored over trauma center data in five cities with bike-share programs and five cities with no such programs. They found that bike injuries involving people’s heads increased by 14 percent after cities instituted bike-sharing programs. Cities without the programs saw no such increase.

“Biggest thing is, bike-share programs don’t typically offer bike helmets,” Mike Lewis, a doctor with the Brain Health Education and Research Institute, told WTTG.

Bike-share users who want to wear a helmet are generally expected to bring their own. Or, at least, they aren’t going to get one with the rental.

“The study basically confirmed our worries,” said Janessa Graves, one of the researchers behind the study, according to National Public Radio.

“Public bike-share initiatives are great wellness initiatives,” she added, but she  and her colleagues suspected that they would see more head and brain injuries in places where the helmet-less schemes are in place.

“And we did,” Graves said.

This data doesn’t demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship, of course, but the researchers said their findings warrant further investigation.

The researchers suggested that bike-sharing programs should make helmets available with bikes when they are rented.

“When we’re trying to promote more bicycling, we need to do that in the context of increasing helmet use,” Andrea Gielin, director of an injury research institute at Johns Hopkins University, told NPR.

The five cities that saw a collective spike in head and brain injuries after bike-sharing programs were instituted are Boston, Minneapolis, Montreal, Washington, D.C., and Miami Beach, Fla.

Follow Eric on Twitter and on Facebook, and send story tips to [email protected].