06/18/2012 11:18 am ET Updated Aug 18, 2012

Bikeshare Riders Shun Helmets

By Karen Hopkin
(Click here for the original article and podcast)

Bike sharing is a growing phenomenon, and lots of cities are launching programs that allow people to borrow a set of wheels. But do these fly-by-night cyclists play it safe as they tool around town? A new study shows that in Washington DC most of them don't--at least when it comes to wearing a helmet. The results appear in the American Journal of Public Health. [John D. Kraemer, Jason S. Roffenbender and Laura Anderko, "Helmet Wearing Among Users of a Public Bicycle-Sharing Program in the District of Columbia and Comparable Riders on Personal Bicycles"]

Researchers at Georgetown University spent a month watching people ride bikes around the nation's capital. D.C. is home to Capital Bikeshares, one of the largest programs in the U.S. The researchers noted whether cyclists were on Capital bikes or wheels of their own. They also classified riders as either casual users or likely commuters, depending on when and where the cyclists were spotted. 

What they found is: bike-share riders tend to shun headgear. While 70 percent of the commuters who rode their own bikes wore helmets, fewer than a third of the bike-share commuters did the same. And the casual riders were even more lax.

To encourage helmet use, New York City, whose bike-share system is set to launch in July, is giving them away. Just show up for a fitting. It's one way to stay a head.