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Economic Statistics: Helmets and Injury Costs

From the Pacific Institute for Research & Evaluation

Summary: Some of the numbers and things to consider when evaluating the benefits vs costs of helmets. The authors found a cost-benefit ratio for child bicycle helmets of 47, and for adult helmets 15. This analysis was done in 2009, so the numbers are woefully behind current medical costs. This summary leaves out many complicating factors. Details of the calculations are in the book chapter linked to above. Extracted from this book chapter, beginning on page 449. We can't find the book on the web now.

Economic Statistics: Helmets and Injury Costs


Every bicyclist in the US buys a helmet, and they use their helmets for five years.

The Costs

Annual cost of helmets = $261 million. That assumes an $18 average helmet price for adults and $11.50 for children. There are 85.3 million riders, and the helmets last for five years, so one-fifth of the riders buy a helmet every year.

Costs of head injuries without helmets: $5.8 billion



Effectiveness of Helmets

Cost savings and cost-benefit ratio of universal helmet use:


Lifetime Cost savings
Benefit-cost ratio: 47. $11.50 spent on a helmet:

Lifetime Cost savings

Injury cost saving: $2.8 billion

Benefit-cost ratio: 15. $18 spent on an adult helmet:

There are many uncosted elements:
The authors believe that their estimates are conservative.

We are indebted to Ted Miller of the Pacific Institute for Research & Evaluation, one of the authors of this book chapter, the source of the above information. He also provided the info below from emails back in 2000.

More Economic Statistics: Helmets and Injury Costs

From the Pacific Institute for Research & Evaluation
(Extracted from two emails in 2000)

Summary: Some of the numbers and the things to consider when evaluating the economic costs of head injuries. This analysis was done in 2000, so the numbers are outdated but the methodology is not.

Youth Numbers

More than 80% of the resource and productivity costs and the quality of life losses associated with bicycling, ages 0-19, do not involve a motor vehicle. But a bicycle incident involving a motor vehicle is about 3.5 five times as costly as one that does not involve a motor vehicle ($17,600 versus $4,900 in resource and productivity costs).

Bicycle-only incidents are less severe but far more frequent. Overall, bicycle crashes are the 4th largest contributor to childhood injury costs and quality of life losses. The above estimates exclude some cases where a bicyclist struck a pedestrian.

For the US in 1996, 262 bicyclists ages 0-19 died in motor vehicle crashes compared to 23 in crashes without motor vehicles. These numbers are a perfect illustration of the dangers of doing epidemiology with just mortality data. Fatalities are overwhelmed by a different pattern for nonfatal injuries. Ages 0-19, 5,500 motor vehicle cases were hospital-admitted and 37,000 were medically treated elsewhere. In contrast, 12,400 cases without motor vehicles involved were hospital-admitted and 735,000 were medically treated elsewhere. Hospital-admitted cases are serious. The non-motor vehicle cases are the largest share of these serious injuries.

Adult Numbers

The importance of non-motor vehicle incidents is even more striking among adults. Motor vehicle-involved deaths still predominate, but not as strongly (430 versus 84). For hospital admissions, the balance swings far more heavily to non-motor vehicle cases (25,400 versus 4,900). Although many more deaths and hospital-admitted injuries occur among adults than children, other medically treated injuries are far more often a child problem. The estimated frequencies are 21,000 involving motor vehicles and 166,000 not.