SATURDAY, May 5 (HealthDay News) -- Four out of five Americans who participate in public bike-sharing programs don't wear helmets and are putting themselves at significant risk for head injuries, a new study shows.
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In bike-sharing programs, riders rent bikes from kiosks located throughout a city. There are 15 bike-sharing programs in the United States and 30 more in development, according to the researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
The researchers collected data on helmet use among more than 3,000 adult cyclists participating in the Capital Bikeshare program in Washington, D.C., and the Hubway bike-share program in Boston.
The researchers said they were surprised to find that only 20 percent of the riders in the bike-share programs wore helmets.
"Head injury accounts for about a third of all bicycle injuries and about three-quarters of bicycle-related deaths, so these are some pretty shocking numbers," lead author and emergency medicine physician Dr. Christopher Fischer said in a medical center news release.
The study was published online April 30 in the journal Annals of Emergency Medicine.
Fischer and his colleagues noted that previous studies have shown that "helmet use is associated with decreased rates of head injury and mortality in riders of all ages, with bicycle helmets decreasing the risk of head and brain injury by 65 percent to 88 percent."
The bike-sharing programs in Washington, D.C., and Boston encourage riders to wear helmets, but helmet use is not a requirement for bike rental.
Done safely, a rise in bike sharing offers benefits to the environment (less air pollution) and health (more exercise), the release noted.
"Bike-sharing programs have the potential to offer a lot of benefits to cyclists and cities, but it's important to encourage safe cycling," Fischer said. "We know that wearing a helmet reduces the risk of head injury dramatically and we believe that helmets should be more readily available at bike-rental sites."
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, news release, April 30, 2012