The long-held assumption that helmet legislation helps lower the rate of head injuries to cyclists is being challenged by a new report from the University of British Columbia.

The study published last week in BMJ Open [British Medical Journal] compared data from provinces like B.C. that have introduced mandatory helmet laws to those without them. Although helmet legislation was effective in getting more cyclists to wear helmets, it did not translate into fewer head injuries.

"Helmet laws didn`t make a difference to hospitalization rates for head and brain injuries," said study author Prof. Kay Teschke. 

Teschke says the study yielded more surprises including that the rate of hospitalization amongst cyclists actually dropped as the rate of cycling went up. 

She says this may be a result of motorist and cyclist getting used to each other as rates of cycling increase, and also a reflection of better and safer cycling infrastructure enticing more people to get on their bikes.

Kay Teschke, UBC

Professor Kay Teschke say building better cycling infrastructure is a better way to prevent cycling injuries than forcing people to wear helmets. (CBC)

The report also showed women cyclists are hospitalized at a much lower rate than men who account for nearly 75 per cent of all cycling injuries. Teschke says women, on average, tend to cycle slightly more slowly than men, and choose safer routes, separated bike lanes and quiet streets more often .

Teschke believes the results of her study support the kind of policy choices made in places like Denmark and Holland, where cycling is prominent. 

"They haven't emphasized helmets at all," she said. "They've put their emphasis on separated infrastructure, making infrastructure that attracts people to cycling. And their injury and fatality rates are quite a bit lower."

With files from Kiran Dhillon