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Saturday, July 12, 2003

Helmet law stats called surprise


EDMONTON -- Surprising stats suggest bike-accident head injuries have risen since Alberta passed a mandatory helmet law.

Figures from nine health regions show a sharp rise in the percentage of bicycle-related head injury cases in their emergency wards.

And that spike peaks in the six months after the government's mandatory helmet law.

"I would urge caution in interpreting these statistics beyond anything more than, 'That's interesting,' " said Dr. Louis Francescutti, a renowned injury-prevention specialist.

"It's a very short timeframe for drawing conclusions," he said, adding the actual number of head injuries could be so small that even slight increases lead to dramatic-appearing percentage hikes.

Stats were compiled by emergency room surveys from May to October -- in each of 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002, when the helmet law, which applies to riders under 18, took effect.

In the years 1999 to 2001, the percentage of head injuries among all bicycle-related injuries stayed fairly constant at just above 5%.

By the end of October 2002, however, it shot up to above 10% for children, and just under 10% for all age groups.

The stats are "a bit of a surprise," said Alberta Transportation spokeswoman Leanne Stangeland.

"We did introduce the bike helmet legislation and so it is a bit of a surprise there would all of a sudden be an increase like this."

The figures are "really suspect" and could be skewed by several factors, said Kathy Belton, co-director of the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research, which collected the stats.

"So you can't really say that bicycle head injuries are going up. There's issues in terms of how the data is reported because there's been a change in how the data is actually coded."

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