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Policy statement

Cochrane Review: Helmets for preventing head and facial injuries in bicyclists

Thompson RS, Rivara FP & Thompson DC. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, The Cochrane Library.

See also: Cochrane Review : Commentary

Authors' abstract


Each year in the United states, approximately 900 persons die from injuries due to bicycle crashes and over 500,000 persons are treated in emergency departments. Head injury is by far the greatest risk posed to bicyclists, comprising one-third of emergency department visits, two-thirds of hospital admissions, and three-fourths of deaths. Facial injuries to cyclists occur at a rate nearly identical to that of head injuries. Although it makes inherent sense that helmets would be protective against head injury, establishing the real-world effectiveness of helmets is important. A number of case-control studies have been conducted demonstrating the effectiveness of bicycle helmets. Because of the magnitude of the problem and the potential effectiveness of bicycle helmets, the objective of this review is to determine whether bicycle helmets reduce head, brain and facial injury for bicyclists of all ages involved in a bicycle crash or fall.


To determine whether bicycle helmets reduce head, brain and facial injury for bicyclists of all ages involved in a bicycle crash or fall.

Search Strategy

We searched The Cochrane Controlled Trials Register, MEDLINE, EMBASE, Sport, ERIC, NTIS, Expanded Academic Index, CINAHL, PsycINFO, Occupational Safety and Health, and Dissertations Abstracts. We checked reference lists of past reviews and review articles, studies from government agencies in the United States, Europe and Australia, and contacted colleagues from the International Society for Child and Adolescent Injury Prevention, World Injury Network, CDC funded Injury Control and Research Centers, and staff in injury research agencies around the world.

Selection Criteria

Controlled studies that evaluated the effect of helmet use in a population of bicyclists who had experienced a crash. We required that studies have complete outcome ascertainment, accurate exposure measurement, appropriate selection of the comparison group and elimination or control of factors such as selection bias, observation bias and confounding.

Data collection and analysis

Five published studies met the selection criteria. Two abstractors using a standard abstraction form independently abstracted data. Odds ratios with 95% CI were calculated for the protective effect of helmet for head and facial injuries. Study results are presented individually. Head and brain injury results were also summarized using meta-analysis techniques.

Main Results

No randomized controlled trials were found. This review identified five well conducted case control studies which met our selection criteria. Helmets provide a 63%-88% reduction in the risk of head, brain and severe brain injury for all ages of bicyclists. Helmets provide equal levels of protection for crashes involving motor vehicles (69%) and crashes from all other causes (68%). Injuries to the upper and mid facial areas are reduced 65%.

Reviewers' conclusions

Helmets reduce bicycle-related head and facial injuries for bicyclists of all ages involved in all types of crashes including those involving motor vehicles.

See also