Monday, April 25, 2016

Do bicycle helmets make any difference?

In 2014 a neurosurgeon went on record stating that bicycle helmets make no difference to the safety of the cyclist. I've long held this view. Being a motorcyclist, I wear a full-face helmet. Those are solid shells, with shatter-resistant face shields, filled with high density polystyrene, surrounded by a strong loop in the chin bar to help with structural integrity. From direct personal experience I can tell you motorcycle helmets absolutely do save lives. I wouldn't be writing this entry if I'd not been wearing my helmet in the two crashes I've had. But I've long questioned the flimsy little foam things that cyclists wear. The don't cover the sides of the head, they offer no protection to the face and they have no structural integrity (you can snap most of them in two just with your hands - even the expensive ones).
In January this year, another study was completed that largely came to the same conclusion, but discovered in addition that cyclists take more risks when wearing a helmet because they think they're safer (the same is true of car drivers who drive in airbag-laden cars that are soundproofed - they take more risks because they think they're safer).
A study published in The British Medical Journal last year looked at hospitalisations in 11 countries with varying helmet laws, and found that wearing helmets did not lower injury rates.
Considering the various studies on this issue and the real-world data, you have to ask whether it's worth wearing a bicycle helmet at all.
I'll support motorcycle helmet laws to the end of time because data proves time and time again that they are worth it. But when all the science shows that bicycle helmets almost do more harm than good (because of their placebo effect) I'd be quite happy to support a call to make them optional rather than mandatory.


Paul Canciu said...

I've worn a bicycle helmet for a while, but I've given up on it pretty quickly. Just as you wrote, it doesn't protect most of the head and it feels rather brittle.
There was also the inconvenience with it messing up my hair. :)
It also doesn't fit over the hat in the colder days.
Given that in my country (Romania) the helmet is optional (it is only recommended) I will not wear one any time soon.

webbrowan said...

I personally think yes, it definitely does make a difference. However, it also depends on the material quality of your helmet itself so as to gauge the level of protection it has on your head. The same principle applies to the seatbelts in a car and only good quality ones really matter eventually.

Paul said...

I have to admit, I'm astounded by this post. Are cycle helmets as good as motorcycle helmets? No, without a doubt. But you asked if they make a difference, and the answer is absolutely! I don't know what sort of "studies" you were looking at but if they say the helmets make no difference then I seriously question their methods/validity.
Sure, in a high speed impact they'll make very little, if any, difference. But in lower speed impacts they make all the difference.
Tell you what Chris, here are two tests for you...
1, face a brick wall and head butt it with the top of your forehead as hard as you can, now do the same test with a cycle helmet.
2, Stand upright on your driveway, bend at your waist 90 degrees and just fall forward onto the concrete (without putting your hands down), now repeat with a cycle helmet.
Did you feel any difference? Yes, you've just invalidated all those "studies". No, then I suggest those two accidents did more damage than you think...

Will a cyclist get hurt in an accident, absolutely. Will their chances of brain injury be lessened with a helmet? Yes it will. I'm a firefighter/EMT and have seen the results of many car vs bicycle accidents, as well as other types of cycle accidents, and in my humble opinion helmets do make a difference.


Chris said...

The studies looked mostly at empirical data for accidents involving helmets and those without as well as injury rates for places with helmet laws and those without. They found there is negligible difference in the injury, trauma and concussion incidences. Most of this is due to the design of the helmets (they actually don't cover enough of the head to be properly protective) but also they use high density foam which transmits the shock almost without moderation compared to the compressible linings found in motorcycle helmets. I was surprised when I read the initial report but the more I looked the more it made sense. I looked at my own helmet and sure enough the foam is structural not crash-absorbing.