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Bicycle Accidents, Common Causes, Common Injuries & Helmet Safety

By Matt Lalande in Bicycle Accidents on August 10, 2022

Bicycle Accidents, Common Causes, Common Injuries & Helmet Safety

Over the past several years, cycling has gradually become one of the most common means of commuting for people in Hamilton, as it is economical, energy-saving, and environmentally friendly. Biking is also an activity that many Canadians do, whether it’s for recreation or as a means of transportation to and from work. Sadly, every year there are unfortunate bicycle accidents that happen to people biking on the roads, some of which can result in serious injuries with long-term health implications. 

Data between 2006 and 2017 shows that, in Canada, 73% of cycling accidents that result in death are caused by motor vehicles like cars and trucks, making it apparent that cyclists on the roads are at the greatest risk of injury and death. Many experienced adult cyclists might stop wearing a bike helmet after a number of years, but riding a bicycle without a helmet only increases the risk of injury and death. 

If you’ve been injured in a bike accident, our bicycle accident lawyers can help. Since 2003, our personal injury lawyers represented countless victims of bike accidents and have the experience resolving or trying personal injury cases.

Risk factors for bicycle accidents

The WHO reports that there are roughly 41,000 people who die every year worldwide in cycling accidents, with the majority of those cases related to being involved with accidents involving motor vehicle accidents. In 2020, the City of Hamilton Annual Collision Report noted that the number of cyclist collisions increased from 128 in 2019 to 131 in 2020. The 2021 Annual Collision Report noted that in 2020, there was approximately a 50 percent average reduction in vehicular traffic volumes during the morning and afternoon rush hour because of COVID-19 restrictions. The number of cyclist collisions increased from 131 in 2020 to 138 in 2021 – one is only to assume that less people were driving and more people were biking. Traffic volumes started to increase since early 2021 but did not reach the 2019 pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021.

Depending on the city and area, there are a few risk factors that can make biking a dangerous activity that puts cyclists at risk of injury. Below are some of the main causes of bicycle accidents in Hamilton and throughout Ontario:

Shared space with motorized vehicles: Cyclists are often forced to share the road with motorized vehicles like cars and trucks. Even with the presence of dedicated bike lanes, there can be situations that force the cyclist to move into the street lane, if only momentarily (e.g. a vehicle mistakenly parked in a bike lane, ongoing construction, etc.) Having to share space with motorized vehicles immediately puts the slower-moving, less-protected cyclist at risk of a bicycle accident. Studies show that if the speed of traffic increases by only 1 km/h in mean speed, the chances of a cyclist being involved in a car accident resulting in injury increases by 3%, and the chances of that car accident resulting in death increases by 4-5%. A higher travel speed also means less control and more time needed to stop a motorized vehicle, another two factors that make cycling in shared space with cars and trucks dangerous for cyclists. 

Counter-traffic cycling: Some cyclists will cycle on the road against the flow of traffic, something which is referred to as counter-traffic cycling. (In Ontario and other areas, pedestrians are instructed to walk against the flow of traffic in order to be able to see oncoming traffic, which may be one reason why this practice came about.) Unfortunately, the risk of injury for those who do counter-traffic cycling is almost twice as high as riding with the flow of traffic.

Impaired drivers and cyclists: Alcohol and other drugs make it even more challenging for drivers and cyclists to practice safe driving and riding. Impaired drivers have been linked to a higher number of car accidents, including those involving cyclists. It’s also been shown that cyclists with BAC of higher than 0.05 g/dl have increased head injuries; the same data indicates that cyclists who ride impaired are more likely to have more severe injuries requiring more intensive medical treatment and higher medical costs. 

Distracted cycling: The use of smartphones and other electronic devices while cycling is increasing in popularity; in a recent survey in the US, over 20 % of cyclists reported using some sort of electronic device while cycling. The use of electronic devices in any way while cycling amounts to distracted cycling and contributes to an increase in accidents, especially with motorized vehicles when cycling on the street. 

Poor visibility and/or non-use of bicycle lights and safety features: Cycling at night or in poor visibility (e.g. on rainy or foggy days) greatly increases the risk of being involved in a car accident resulting in injury. Bicycles are smaller than motorized vehicles like cars and trucks; while that affords them more flexibility when moving, it also makes their movements less predictable within the flow of traffic. In addition, cyclists who ride bikes without appropriate reflectors and bicycle lights run the additional risk of not being seen by a driver of a car or truck on the same road.  

Exiting from a private drive: a significant percentage of bicyclists are involved with collisions with automobiles when exiting a roadway, private driveway, alley, side street or sidewalk.

Cyclists riding without a helmet: Multiple studies on the relationships between the use of a helmet and injury found that the use of a helmet helps reduce the risk of head and brain injury from a bike accident.  Wearing a helmet properly was also demonstrated to play an important role in preventing serious head and brain injury in a bike accident. 

Left Turn: In Ontario, over 40% of bicycle accidents are caused by left turns. While most most municipal by-laws mandate that cyclists are supposed to disembark from their bicycles and walk their bike across controlled intersections, many bicycle accidents are caused by drivers turning left and impacting cyclists walking their bikes across intersections or cyclists turning left into private drives while the cyclist has the right of way. Again, since bicycles present such smaller and inconspicuous profiles on the road, drivers who turn left will almost always state under oath they either never saw the bicyclist, or they didn’t see him or her until it was too late. These types of accidents can be brutally devastating to the cyclist and cause very serious injuries.

Driver Distraction: Many accidents occur simply because the drivers are not paying attention, aren’t operating safely for road conditions or fail to respect the rights and space afforded to bicyclists on the roadway. Although Boston is one of the more bike-friendly locations in the country, some drivers still harbor resentment for cyclists who share the road.

What are the most common bicycle injuries?

The majority of cycling injuries come from bicycle accidents involving a motorized vehicle, like a car or truck. When a cyclist is involved in a car accident, there’s unfortunately very little to protect the cyclist from receiving the full force of the car’s metal frame. Regardless of what direction the accident happens, being hit by a motorized vehicle can result in a wide range of physical injuries. In our experience as Hamilton bicycle accident lawyers, a high incidence of multi-trauma including fractures of the head, neck and limbs and cerebral haemorrhages (brain injury) are often found.  Neck and back pain are extremely common in cyclists. Below are some common cycling accident injuries that we have experience with:

Road rash, Abrasions and Lacerations – are very common injuries. Although they are usually minor, abrasions and lacerations require proper care. Most can be taken care of at home with cleaning and bandage changes. Serious lacerations may require debridement. Spoke injuries to the feet and toes are usually seen in children. These injuries often cause significant damage to the soft tissues, which can sometimes result in amputation. Spoke injuries are easily prevented with proper shoes.

Fractures and Bone Breaks – For cyclists, fractures (broken bones) are most common in the hand, wrist, forearm, or shoulder.They occur when the cyclist attempts to break his or her fall with an outstretched arm. After a fall, marked and immediate pain and swelling usually indicates a fracture of the distal radius, scaphoid (the wrist bones) or clavicle (collarbone). Separations or dislocations of the acromioclavicular joint (the joint between the clavicle and shoulder blade) are also common when the rider lands directly on the shoulder. Bicycle riders are always

Head and facial injuries are quite common with kids because of their slower reflexes reaction time when falling – hence they have a much more difficult time protecting themselves from injury. Helmet use does significantly reduce serious head trauma, however, it does little to protect the child’s face. Bicycle related head injuries in kids should be promptly evaluated, particularly if the victim suffers any symptoms of confusion, dizziness, diplopia (double vision), loss of consciousness,excessive sleepiness or severe headache.  These symptoms could represent a serious concussion, contusion (bruising) or hematoma (bleeding in the brain) — all of which require immediate attention.

The Importance and effectiveness of Bicycle Helmets

Studies have shown that wearing a helmet can reduce the chances of serious head injury up to 85%. Bicycle helmets have been available for many years and have become the gold standard for the prevention prevent head injuries. Under Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act, helmets have been required since 1995 for all Ontario cyclists less than 18 years of age – and since since helmet use was mandated, it’s use has increased and head injuries have progressively decreased. 

Some of the more recent studies indicate as follows:

One study, published by the Institute of Transport Economics in Norway, involved carrying out a large-scale meta-analysis of 55 studies on the effects of bicycle helmets between 1989 and 2017. The main findings from the study are that cycle helmets reduce the risk of death or serious injury by 34%, serious head injury by 60%, traumatic brain injury by 53% and face injury by 23%.26 The Dutch Road Safety Research foundation (SWOV) has used the results of the study to estimate that there would be 85 less fatalities per year if all Dutch cyclists wore helmets.

In 2020, the Journal of Accident; Analysis and Prevention reported that the use of bicycle helmets was found to reduce head injury by 48%, serious head injury by 60%, traumatic brain injury by 53%, face injury by 23%, and the total number of killed or seriously injured cyclists by 34%. Bicycle helmets were not found to have any statistically significant effect on cervical spine injury.

A study done in 2016 by Olivier and Creighton is based on 40 case-control studies. In these studies, 64,000 cycling casualties with and without helmet were compared. They estimate that the risk of severe head injury decreases by 69% and the risk of fatal head injury by 65%.

In another study, data from Finland of bicycle accidents that led to a hospital stay or death were analysed. Over one third of these cyclists had suffered a head injury and only 13% of these wore a helmet. 15% of those who wore a helmet suffered a head injury and 43% of those not wearing a helmet sustained a head injury.

Similar research was conducted by Boufous et al (2012) who obtained data on police reported
cycling crashes over a five-year period from the Road Authority of Victoria. This included 6,432 cyclist crashes, which were reported to the police between 2004 and 2008, with 2,181 resulting in severe injury of the cyclist. Analysis showed that a number of cyclist characteristics (e.g. helmet use and age) as well as crash and road characteristics were associated with the severity of injury of a cyclist involved in a traffic collision. Not wearing a helmet increased the risk of severe injury in police-reported cyclist traffic crashes by 56%.

Why are bicycle helmets so effective?

The main purpose of a cycle helmet is to prevent or reduce the extent of injury to a cyclist’s head during a
collision. Helmets are made from expanded polystyrene foam that sites beneath an outer shell. Outer shell standards are usually between 0.3 and 0.8mm thick and is bonded to the liner material during the manufacturing process. The outer shell is designed to break or crack under pressure in order to dissipate energy across the helmet’s surface. Then the polystyrene foam layer compresses and absorbs the energy’s impact by crushing since it is full of tiny air pockets – which in turn provides a “rebound effect”. Some helmets are also made of expanded polypropylene or expanded polyurethane, which have similar properties however expanded polystyrene foam is just as effective and utilized more due to it’s cost.

How do I know if my bicycle helmet fits me?

Helmets come in a variety of sizes – so it is of the utmost importance that it fits well in order to maximize protection. If the bicycle helmet is too tight, it will not sit low enough and as a result, it will not protect the lower part of the skull. If the helmet is too large, then it will not be securely fitted onto the head, and as a result will probably move or shift – thus reducing protection. Many helmets also have a retention system to allow the cyclist to adjust the helmet to fit their head. Some of these systems include a ratchet at the rear of the helmet that slides in and out to adjust the fit for comfort and security. The best retention systems are usually micro-adjustable and can be used with a single hand, which are useful if you need to adjust your helmet during a ride. These systems usually involve an easy-to-use dial
ratchet that you can twist to adjust. Some more advanced retention systems also adjust in multiple directions to fit the cyclist’s head shape.

Some helmets come with visors, which is a great add-on for cyclists who need to be on the road regardless of whether weather conditions are good or bad. Visors help keep rain and dust out of your eyes as you ride. People who commute to work by bike should consider selecting a helmet with a visor. 

The helmet should be certified from one of the following certifying bodies: CSA, EN, ASTM, CPSC or Snell B90/B95 to be considered a trustworthy helmet. 

Remember, when putting on the helmet, ensure that the helmet will stay in place on your head and also not impede your line of sight. The helmet should not feel loose when your move your head front to back or side to side. The helmet should not shift around or tilt backwards when you’re rotating your head and the helmet straps should feel tight around your face and the chin straps tight around your chin, even when you speak or use your mouth. 

What can I do to protect myself from injury as a cyclist?

  • Always wear a properly fitted bicycle helmet when you’re riding a bicycle, especially when you plan to be sharing the road with motorized vehicles
  • Wear reflective clothing or clothing that will be easier to spot by a driver in a car or truck (e.g. brighter rather than darker colours)
  • Before your ride, ensure that your bicycle is in good condition (e.g. tires are not worn and fully inflated, etc.) and that your lights and reflects are in good working order.
  • Whenever possible, travel within lanes reserved for bicycles. 
  • When you have to share the road with other motorized vehicles, travel careful and avoid any sudden movements. 
  • Plan your route before getting on the bicycle and try to avoid using electronic devices while you are moving. If necessary, stop on the sidewalk or an area outside of the flow of traffic and resume your commute once you can fully focus on cycling. 
  • Learn as much as you can about your regular routes. Knowing which intersections and merge zones can cause issues for cyclists means that you can plan your route accordingly, to be prepared for anything that might result in an accident, or to avoid the area altogether. 

Wearing a helmet might be up to you, but all signs point to it being the right choice to make

In Canada, wearing a helmet is mandatory for children up to 18 years of age, after which it becomes the rider’s decision whether or not to continue using a helmet. Although it’s difficult to confirm actual statistics, many adults cyclists seem less than concerned about whether they have a helmet when riding a bicycle. However, if statistics are any indication, having a helmet on could help prevent serious head injury if and when you are involved in a car accident on your bicycle, which could be the difference between a quick recovery and potentially a lifetime of dealing with symptoms of severe head injury. 

Have you been injured as the result of hit by a car while cycling?

There is no doubt that bicyclists in Hamilton and throughout Ontario are vulnerable road users who risk incurring severe injuries from traffic incidents involving motorists. 

If you or a loved one have been involved in a serious bicycle accident we can help. Since 2003, Matt Lalande has represented bicycle accident victims all over Ontario and recovered millions of dollars in compensation on their behalf. Call us no matter where you are in Canada at 1-844-LALANDE or local in the Southern Ontario region at 905-333-8888. Alternatively, you can email us confidentially through our website and we will be happy to reach out and schedule a time to speak with you or your loved one.

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