Helmet use among bike-share users is low. We sought to characterize helmet-use patterns, barriers to helmet use, and cycling safety practices among bike-share users in Toronto.
A standardized survey of public bike-share program (PBSP) users at semi-random distribution of PBSP stations was undertaken. By maintaining a ratio of one helmet-wearer (HW): two non-helmet-wearers (NHW) per survey period, we controlled for location, day, time, and weather.
Surveys were completed on 545 (180 HW, 365 NHW) unique users at 48/80 PBSP locations, from November 2012 to August 2013. More females wore helmets (F: 41.1%, M: 30.9%, p=0.0423). NHWs were slightly younger than HWs (NHW mean age 34.4 years vs HW 37.3, p=0.0018). The groups did not differ by employment status, education, or income.
Helmet ownership was lower among NHWs (NHW: 62.4% vs HW: 99.4%, p<0.0001), as was personal bike ownership (NHW: 65.8%, vs HW: 78.3%, p=0.0026). NHWs were less likely to always wear a helmet on personal bikes (NHW: 22.2% vs HW: 66.7%, p<0.0001), and less likely to wear a helmet always or most of the time on PBSP (NHW: 5.8% vs HW: 92.3%, p<0.0001). Both groups, but more HWs, had planned to use PBSP when leaving their houses (HW: 97.2% vs NHW: 85.2%, p<0.0001), primarily to get to work (HW: 88.3% vs NHW: 84.1%, p=0.19). NHWs were more likely to report that they would wear a helmet more (NHW: 61.4% vs HW: 13.9%, p<0.0001), and/or cycle less (NHW: 22.5% vs HW: 4.4%) if helmet use was mandatory.
PBSP users surveyed appear to make deliberate decisions regarding helmet use. NHWs tended to be male, slightly younger, and less likely to use helmets on their personal bikes. As Toronto cyclists who do not wear helmets on PBSP generally do not wear helmets on their personal bikes, interventions to increase helmet use should target both personal and bike-share users. Legislating helmet use and provision of rental helmets could improve helmet use among bike-share users, but our results suggest some risk of reduced cycling with legislation.