Introduction: Half of fatal injuries among bicyclists are head injuries. While helmet use is likely to provide protection, their use often remains rare. We assessed the influence of strategies for promotion of helmet use with direct observation of behaviour by a semi-automatic video system.
Methods: We performed a single-centre randomised controlled study, with 4 balanced randomisation groups. Participants were non-helmet users, aged 18-75 years, recruited at a loan facility in the city of Bordeaux, France. After completing a questionnaire investigating their attitudes towards road safety and helmet use, participants were randomly assigned to three groups with the provision of "helmet only", "helmet and information" or "information only", and to a fourth control group. Bikes were labelled with a colour code designed to enable observation of helmet use by participants while cycling, using a 7-spot semi-automatic video system located in the city. A total of 1557 participants were included in the study.
Results: Between October 15th 2009 and September 28th 2010, 2621 cyclists' movements, made by 587 participants, were captured by the video system. Participants seen at least once with a helmet amounted to 6.6% of all observed participants, with higher rates in the two groups that received a helmet at baseline. The likelihood of observed helmet use was significantly increased among participants of the "helmet only" group (OR = 7.73 [2.09-28.5]) and this impact faded within six months following the intervention. No effect of information delivery was found.
Conclusion: Providing a helmet may be of value, but will not be sufficient to achieve high rates of helmet wearing among adult cyclists. Integrated and repeated prevention programmes will be needed, including free provision of helmets, but also information on the protective effect of helmets and strategies to increase peer and parental pressure.