Campaign is part of a larger city effort to encourage biking, make streets safer for everyone

Everybody is talking about the Boston Public Health Commission’s provocative new campaign to promote bike safety in the city of Boston.

The campaign features three images which appear on two dozen posters throughout the city in high bike-traffic areas. In two images, bikers not wearing helmets have sustained injuries from a crash. In the third, a female biker was protected by her helmet.

The posters and stencils on city bike lane remind riders there are “No Excuses. Wear a Helmet.” Research for the campaign showed that there are a number of reasons riders chose not to wear helmets, such as they are uncomfortable, too hot, or result in “helmet hair.” See campaign images here.

The overall campaign message? It is always safer to ride a bike with a helmet than without a helmet.

“Over the past several years, the Boston Public Health Commission has worked with the city and community partners, trauma doctors, and cycling advocates on a comprehensive approach to making biking a safe and healthy way to get around Boston. Our progress together has included new connected bike lanes, distributing free and low-cost helmets, and supporting bike safety education for youth and children,” said Dr. Huy Nguyen, BPHC medical director and a pediatrician at Dorchester House Multiservice Center. “Riding in Boston is safer than ever, but more can be done. Getting all riders to wear a helmet is another important step in ensuring that residents can enjoy the full health rewards of biking. These posters remind us that if you fall off of your bike, you don’t have to suffer a head, brain or upper face injury—wearing a helmet is a simple effective way you can protect your head.”

Some residents have raised questions about the campaign, including:

Don’t most bicyclists already wear helmets? Different sources show different results. Survey counts by Boston Bikes have shown, on average, more than 70 percent of the riders they saw wore helmets. A recent study, published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine and reported in the Boston Globe, however, cited research documenting a Boston helmet use rate of 48 percent. Either rate demonstrates that more can be done to promote universal helmet use and prevent head and brain injuries.

I know a helmet will protect my head, but will it protect my face? Yes. Emergency department and trauma doctors say that when worn correctly, a properly fitted helmet reduces the risk of head, brain, and upper face injury. In fact, helmets have been shown to reduce the risk of head injury by 85 percent, the risk of brain injury by 88 percent, and the risk of injury to the upper or mid-face by 65 percent.

“Having been a victim of a bicycle crash in which I sustained a cracked helmet, and having seen the devastating results of riders involved in crashes without helmets in comparison to those who were involved in crashes with bike helmets, it is a no brainer. If you ride your bike, wear a helmet,” said Dr. Kofi Abbensetts, trauma and acute care surgeon, Boston Medical Center, and assistant professor of surgery, Boston University School of Medicine.

Won’t this campaign discourage people from riding bikes in Boston? No. Getting more people to wear helmets every time they ride, and effectively reducing rates of head and brain injuries will make bicycling in Boston a safer and more attractive mode of transportation.

What else is the city of Boston doing to make the streets safer for bikers? The city of Boston, supported by BPHC and a coalition including emergency department doctors and other hospital staff, cycling advocates, and community leaders, has taken a comprehensive approach to promoting safe bike riding in the city. These efforts have included adding more than 50 miles of new, connected bike lanes; providing more than 500 reduced-cost Hubway memberships; creating more than 2,500 new bike parking spaces; working with more than 10,000 youth through programs like Roll it Forward; and distributing more than 6,000 helmets. In addition, the Boston Police Department has issued more than 2,000 parking tickets for bicycle lane violations to motor vehicles in city, and also distributes helmets to riders.

Isn’t increasing ridership more important for bike safety (i.e. safety in numbers)? In some studies in other cities, lower rates of accidents were seen on roads with higher numbers of cyclists. While this research is promising, bike helmets still remain the single most effective way to reduce the risk of head and brain injuries.

Where can I get a helmet? The BPHC Injury Prevention Program works to reduce the risk of head injury by providing low-cost helmets to the community in Boston.  Helmets for $5.00 are available at the Boston Medical Center Gift Shop. Organizations can also place orders for helmets (at $5.00 per unit cost) to be delivered on site for individual distribution or for health fairs and local events. To request discounted helmets, complete and return the following application.

BPHC works with community-based organizations to ensure that free and low cost helmets are available in Boston neighborhoods. This summer, BPHC donated helmets to Boston Cyclists Union for distribution through their Bike to Market program. Helmets were available at farmers markets in Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, East Boston and Charlestown among others; and were also distributed through other partners, including: CommonWheels Bicycle Collective, Mattapan Food and Fitness, RoxComp Community Health Center, MA Affordable Housing Alliance, South Side Head Start (Part of ABCD), Mass College of Art & Design, Harvard University, South Boston Neighborhood House PreSchool, and Boston Emergency Medical Services.