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Long-Term Effects of Education and Legislation Enforcement on All-Age Bicycle Helmet Use: A Longitudinal Study

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Abstract

Bicycle-related injuries are a leading cause of child and youth hospitalizations in Canada. The use of helmets while bicycling reduces the risk of brain injuries. This study investigated the long-term effect of legislation coupled with enforcement to improve helmet use rates. We conducted a longitudinal observational study of helmet use at 9, 11, and 14 years after bicycle helmet legislation was enacted. Data were compared to baseline observations collected after legislation was passed in 1997. A comprehensive enforcement and educational diversion program, Operation Headway–Noggin Knowledge (OP–NK), was developed and implemented in partnership with regional police during the study period. Helmet use was sustained throughout the post-legislation period, from 75.3 % in the year legislation was enacted to 94.2 % 14 years post-legislation. The increase in helmet use was seen among all age groups and genders. Helmet legislation was not associated with changes in bicycle ridership over the study years. OP–NK was associated with improved enforcement efforts as evidenced by the number of tickets issued to noncompliant bicycle riders. This observational study spans a 16-year study period extending from pre-legislation to 14 years post all-age bicycle helmet legislation. Our study results demonstrate that a comprehensive approach that couples education and awareness with ongoing enforcement of helmet legislation is associated with long-term sustained helmet use rates. The diversion program described herein is listed among best practices by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

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Acknowledgments

Constable Regan Fong (Halifax Regional Police) for his leadership, collaboration and innovative Operation Headway design. Many Partners in Policing (Halifax Regional Police and Halifax District Royal Canadian Mounted Police) who supported OP–NK and tirelessly continue to provide enforcement of all-age helmet legislation in NS.

Funding

Funding from the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Dalhousie University’s Division of Neurosurgery provided helmet giveaways and sustained research support.

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Correspondence to Lynne Fenerty.

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Huybers, S., Fenerty, L., Kureshi, N. et al. Long-Term Effects of Education and Legislation Enforcement on All-Age Bicycle Helmet Use: A Longitudinal Study. J Community Health 42, 83–89 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10900-016-0233-3

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