When have you last seen a professional, racing cyclist not wearing a helmet? At a minimum that should provide an indication of how important helmet use is to the safety of all cyclists. Yet what information is available to the average cyclist riding along or adjacent to urban roads about helmet use? Turns out that not much, or no information is provided. Collisions occur, some of them fatal, yet the involvement of helmet use in those collisions is never reported.
While conducting observations of cyclists along roadways in London Ontario, Gorski Consulting has provided a variety of data about cyclist speeds, characteristics of cyclists and where they ride. In the latest data, from the first six months of 2022, we have now also examined the issue of helmet use. And the results are quite surprising.
The Helmet Use Data
Cyclists were observed on the streets of London over a period of six months from the beginning of 2022 until the end of June. In that time photos were taken of 501 cyclists who were either riding cycles on a roadway, riding on a sidewalk or stopped within any portion of the traffic right-of-way. The results of these observations are summarized in the table below.
There were 417 male and 58 female observations. In 6 observations the gender of the cyclist could not be determined.
Where gender could be determined the percent of female riders was just 12.2 %. This finding is not much different from findings from other years dating back to 2013.
Looking at helmet use, 248 of the 417 males cyclists were not wearing a helmet. This amounts to 59.5 % non-usage. For females, out the total of 58 observations, 29 were observed not to be wearing a helmet, or 50.0 % non-usage.
The actual percentages of non-use were actually higher because the non-use counts discussed here are for instances where we could be certain that a helmet was not used. In a number of instances a cyclist head was not visible or was covered by other clothing such as a hood. While the number of those instances was not large it, never-the-less, indicates that the actual percentage of non-use of helmets is higher than indicated.
Strangely, helmet non-use by cyclists appears to be less on the Thames Valley Parkway. In a study conducted in July, 2021 268 cyclists were observed in the Greenway Park area of the TVP. Sixty-eight cyclists were observed who were not wearing a helmet. This is a 25.3 % non-use rate. This rate of non-use appears to be much lower than the previously mentioned observations along City streets.
These results are both unexpected and concerning. Given the reasonable concern of being struck by passing motor vehicles one would think that cyclists would be more prone to accepting ways of protecting themselves with proven protective gear such as helmets. This data seems to contradict that expectation. Yet there is an additional factor that needs to be considered – the riding location of the cyclist.
Cyclist Location Data
The table below provides a breakdown of where the cyclists were located, if on the roadway or on the sidewalk.
The summary at the bottom of this table shows that, of the 417 male cyclists, 273 were observed to be riding or stopped on a sidewalk. Thus 65.47% of male cyclists were observed on a sidewalk. Similarly for females, of the 55 females, 38 were observed to be on a sidewalk. Thus 69.1% of female cyclists were observed on a sidewalk.
Thus one possibility for the low helmet use rates on London’s roads is that about two-thirds of cyclists ride on sidewalks where the danger of being struck by a motor vehicle is greatly diminished. This can only be speculated.
What seems of interest is that the number of cyclists riding on sidewalks continues to be very high. The observations for these first six months of 2022 indicate a higher percentage of cyclists on sidewalks than in previous years where similar observations were made. It remains a topic of no discussion that Provincial traffic laws and London’s laws make it illegal for cyclists to ride on sideways and yet cyclists continue to disobey these laws. No one wants to address this large elephant in the room.