As Canadian Cycling Magazine reported, a study was conducted recently at the University of British Columbia that called into question the efficacy of helmet laws. Another part of that same study — conducted as a joint initiative between UBC and researchers from the University of Toronto — claimed that a different characteristic of cyclists has a greater effect on injury rates.
That characteristic, the report concluded, is gender.
Along with Dr. Kay Teschke, with whom Canadian Cycling Magazine had a chance to discuss the findings of the helmet study, three others were involved in the research: Mieke Koehoorn, Hui Shen and Jessica Dennis, a U of T PhD candidate. The team found that out of the close to 3,700 cyclists injured to the point of requiring hospitalization on an annual basis, three quarters of the victims were men. Women, it turned out, were less affected.
“The extent of the difference was pretty striking, “Dennis told the CBC. “Women were 50 per cent less likely to be injured to any body region and 60 per cent less likely when we were considering head injuries.” In analyzing those numbers, the report concluded that female riders, compared with their male counterparts, take fewer risks and ride more cautiously. As a result, fewer calamitous wipe-outs put women in the hospital.
“We know that women tend to ride a little more slowly,” Dennis explained. “We know that women choose safer bike routes, they choose routes that have a designated bike lane, or a route that’s separated from traffic.”
Some cyclists agreed with the findings, while others took exception, saying that both men and women are equally vulnerable on the roads. Dennis, meanwhile, echoed Teschke’s reasoning regarding helmets in disclosing the ultimate revelations of the study. More than anything, she said, it’s infrastructure, not safety gear, that makes all the difference in keeping riders safe on the road. By providing cyclists with dedicated means of getting around their respective cities, the cautious, measured choices attributed to women in the study, Dennis argued, can be taken by everyone — regardless of their chromosomes.
“These choices women are making, we can promote them,” Dennis told the CBC. “But we need policymakers to really buy into these separated bike routes or designated bike lanes that are going to provide cyclists the means to cycle more like a woman.”