NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – The number of bike-related deaths among children younger than 16 fell by more than half after a Canadian bike-helmet law went into effect, a new study shows.

The Ontario law, which came into force in October 1995, mandated that bicyclists younger than 18 wear a helmet.

Researchers found that in the seven years after the law went into effect, the number of bike-related deaths among children dropped by 52 percent. Between 1991 and 1995, there was an average of 13 such deaths per year; between 1996 and 2002, that number dropped to six.

In contrast, the researchers report in the journal Pediatrics, there was no reduction in deaths among bicyclists age 16 and up — including adults, who were not subject to the helmet law.

“These findings support promotion of helmet use, enforcement of the existing law, and extension of the law to adult bicyclists,” write the researchers, led by Dr. Patricia C. Parkin of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

It is well-known that bike helmets can cut the risk of dying in a cycling accident, but the extent to which helmet laws reduce death rates has been less clear.

The current findings, according to Parkin’s team, suggest that Ontario’s law made a “significant contribution” to the lower child death rates seen in the years since its introduction.

SOURCE: Pediatrics, September 2008.