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Helmets Revisited. Should You Or Shouldn’t You Wear A Bike Helmet?

New evidence emerges about the safety value of bike helmets

cycling accident
Today’s newsletter is about a subject I’ve talked about before. Helmets. Should you or shouldn’t you wear a helmet when road cycling?

I know there is a fierce debate about the issue, with committed advocates of both sides. I’ve read plenty of opinions, and have my own views, which I’ve stated before.

I know one of the arguments against the wearing of helmets when cycling is that a helmet will give a false sense of security and encourage more risky behaviour on the road.

Even so I’ve made it clear that I wouldn’t consider getting onto a bike without wearing a helmet.

There’s 2 reasons for this. The first is that where I live it’s illegal to ride on the road without a helmet. The second, and much more important reason, is that I’ve seen close friends hit the road at speed. In one case I’m convinced that a friend of mine, who fell right beside me, is only alive, or least only alive without a brain injury, because of his helmet.

He went face down onto the road at about 30 mph. You should have seen the mess the helmet was in. After a period of convalescence he was fine.

I cycle with quite a few other people from our cycling club, at times up to 100 people if you add up the different groups. I have never seen anyone road cycling with us without a helmet. If they did they would be told in no uncertain terms to get one before they came back.

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But the helmet debate continues

But still the debate rages on, and so today’s newsletter is to add a little more to the discussion about helmets, specifically following the release of a new study from Australia.

The new study, by researchers at the University of New South Wales Transport and Road Safety Research Group and School of Mathematics and Statistics, just released, studied 6745 cyclists who were involved in a collision with a car during a period of 9 years in New South Wales in Australia.

About one quarter of the cyclists studied were not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash.

The conclusions of the study were clearly in favour of the benefits of wearing a helmet for cyclists, concluding that

“The benefits of helmets were clear in this study. Cyclists without helmets had up to 3.9 times the risk of sustaining a head injury, compared with those who wore helmets. The more severe the injury, the greater the benefit: Helmet use reduced the risk of moderate head injury by 49 per cent, of serious head injury by 62 per cent, and of severe head injury by 74 per cent”.

Not only that but the study clearly quashed the notion that people wearing helmets when cycling engaged in more risky behaviour, concluding that “Non-helmeted cyclists were almost three times as likely to have disobeyed traffic controls as helmeted riders, and more than four times as likely to have been above the blood alcohol limit”

I’m sure this study won’t put an end to the argument. There will still be plenty of people who will argue that cycling without a helmet is safe, and even that it is safer than wearing a helmet.

What about you? Do you wear a helmet? Why, or why not? Visit the Over 40 Cyclist Facebook page and share your views.

And if you do wear a helmet why not find out more about how to fit a bike helmet correctly.





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10 Responses to Helmets Revisited. Should You Or Shouldn’t You Wear A Bike Helmet?

  1. Vancouver Camera Cyclist 27/02/2016 at 7:47 am #

    Another benefit of helmets is the space for accessories such as bike lights and cameras. Make sure that their mounts would break in a crash if possible. There’s a forum that talks about the issue. Some thinks the helmet light reduce crashes so it will outweigh the cons of a larger target from the lamp.

  2. jseski 10/10/2015 at 3:26 am #

    Nicely written, Peter! Although in fairness, I have to admit I’m strongly bias on the subject & I’ll give you a bit of supporting personal experiences (sorry if it gets a bit long):

    When I was a kid I thought helmets were dorky & unnecessary unless I was vaulting off a homemade ramp of monstrous proportions Evel Knievel style…then a 70’s motoX helmet & cape were quite fashionable. But then in college, working at a bike shop – I met my buddy who’s mother had been killed just a few years earlier in a residential area from a young driver going too fast. His family had been told that while she most likely would have had some level of paralysis, his mother p’bly would have lived if she had been wearing a helmet (this was not unsolicited for those Dr.-defenders out there – he was specifically asked). Also, for the shop, I gave bike safety presentations to the local elementary schools & saw tons of support data that helped me understand why it’s the right thing to do.

    I’ve had a few times (specifically when mountain biking) when I’ve been glad to have my “brain bucket” on. But since my college days, I’ve always been a bit of a “helmet nazi” especially regarding my kids. I’ve had a full-on no tolerance rule since they were even on their trikes, if you ride = you are wearing a helmet. My kids are now teenagers (one college, one high school) and this last summer as the three of us rode RAGBRAI (multi-day ride across state of Iowa), we all saw first hand why you always wear a helmet. On one of the last days, we had got up & headed out to begin another 70+ mile day. We had not yet even left the overnight town’s city limits when not 20 feet in front of us, a gal who was just cruising along with her friends, went down. We were not out of town yet & the general pace was 10 to 15 miles per hour at that time, I would say she was closer to 10 or 12. Her front wheel slipped into a seam of the road that had seperated a bit over time & was p’bly just over an inch wide. Just wide & deep enough for her front tire to drop into & not allow her to steer out. There was no bike wobble, no last-second balancing attempt – she had no time to react, the front tire was grabbed by the gap in the road & she was thrown to the street in an instant. P’bly not even aware what was happening she did not even have time to bring an arm up to catch herself. Her helmet & shoulder impacted the ground at the same time & she was immediately motionless. I hopped off my bike & ran up to help her, just in time to see a blood trail start flowing out from under her helmet. Her eyes were open, but she was knocked out cold. 911 was called, ambulances came while my son & I directed bike traffic away from the scene. I don’t know the particulars of the aftermath, but I do know that she lived. I hope & pray that she is recovering/recovered back to normal, but SHE DID LIVE! Seeing it first hand…how fast it happened, the modest speed she was traveling, & the damage that still happened was simply shocking. But also left no doubt: there is no way she would have survived without her helmet.

    At 44, my thinking has certainly changed from my youth. Now when I see “dorks” who aren’t wearing helmets, I think think how ignorant/vain/????/whatever they are… I don’t say that necessarily in a mean spirited way, I really don’t think they understand why it’s truly so important. And if they do, yet they’re still more worried about their hair…then yeah, they’re just stupid.
    Like I said, great article. I see this article is from a couple years ago – this could use a “bump” once a year, to remind some & inform others.

    Roll on!

    • Over 40 Cyclist 18/04/2016 at 6:22 pm #

      Hi Jseski, since I wrote that I’ve had a serious fall at speed and hit very hard, including my head. My helmet was smashed but I didn’t even have a headache, let alone concussion.

      I’ve recovered and am back on the bike but bought a new helmet before I did. I’d never – ever – ride without a helmet.

    • MJ Ray 21/04/2017 at 3:48 am #

      Isn’t it strange how so many helmet users seem to report spectacular crashes while fewer ordinary riders do? In places that don’t have Nanny State governments forcing people to use them, at least. And it’s not that the morgues here are full of dead non-helmet-using cyclists who suffered head injuries…

      It ain’t ignorance or vanity that stops people using, jseski. It’s often that we’ve actually looked at the evidence rather than listened to the heartstring-tugging anecdotes and there basically isn’t any for helmets improving outcomes. The study funded by a helmet-forcing government mentioned in this article is dismantled in various places, including http://mccraw.co.uk/government-funds-flawed-helmet-validating-study/

      If there are researchers wanting to look at helmets, we could really do with some good research that attempted to explain why the obvious laboratory-tested physical impact protection of helmets doesn’t translate into real-world injury rate improvements (user errors? risk compensation? causing other injuries? motorists behaving worse near helmet users?), but instead we keep getting a stream of flawed studies trying to prop up helmets, which itself suggests that helmets don’t really work, else surely someone would have published good research by now.

      Instead, it would be much better if government stopped trying to tell us what unproven clothing to wear and started doing things like the intersection rebuilds which we know are more likely to reduce road casualties.

  3. Kevin 31/08/2013 at 3:29 am #

    In my opinion ALWAYS wear a helmet. Since my kids were able to ride a bike (even with training wheels) I have always made them wear a helmet. And as a father and role model I also wear a helmet anytime I get on a bike. And my insistence paid off. About two weeks ago I was riding my bike when a young and inexperienced driver pulled out in front of me. I didn’t have time to turn or break so I did the only option available to me, I hit his car doing over 17MPH (27KPH). From where I hit his car to where I sat up on the road was about 25 feet (7.6 meters). I was very fortunate in that I wasn’t severely injured but I remember quite vividly my head bouncing off of the road. I remember laying in the ER strapped to a wooden board and my older son standing out of my view holding my helmet and gloves crying uncontrollably at the sight of me ‘packaged’ up and laying on a stretcher. It took all of the strength I had to not cry as I tried to calm him and reassure him I was going to be alright. My helmet has the scars from the accident and not my head. Helmets work. And as cliché as this may sound, if you don’t wear one for yourself do it for someone who loves you. I assure you that one of the hardest things you can do is to try and console a loved one while strapped to a back board and covered in blood.

    • Over 40 Cyclist 01/09/2013 at 12:44 pm #

      Hey Kevin, that’s some story. You didn’t say but I hope it all turned out all right for you and you’re back on the bike.

      • Kevin 03/09/2013 at 4:27 am #

        I’m getting but but I haven’t ridden yet, I still can’t put much weight on my shoulder. As soon as I can support myself with no pain I plan on jumping on my mountain bike and start logging some miles. I don’t know if I will settle with the insurance company in time to get a new road bike and start riding before the weather goes south. I’m going nuts not riding.

        • Over 40 Cyclist 03/09/2013 at 10:17 am #

          Yes I’d be going nuts not riding too. I hope it all works out for you and you get a new bike soon. You’ll enjoy it when you do get back out again! Good luck

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