Helmet science (for real)

Here’s an interesting paper on bike helmet design. Should be mandatory reading no matter which side of the debate you fall on, especially if you like to repeat stories about how a helmet ‘saved [some person’s] life’.

(Note for the record that I’m a skeptic; I wear one when mountain biking but never else, and won’t go on rides that require them, because I believe (and am backed up by real-world data) that biking isn’t that dangerous; that helmets haven’t had much impact on head injuries; and that wearing helmets helps perpetuate the myth that biking is too dangerous to do regularly.)



8 thoughts on “Helmet science (for real)

  1. I agree that the danger of cycling is exaggerated (the danger of heart disease from sedentary living needs to be splashed across headlines much more frequently, IMHO) but I am not spreading a myth when I say that my helmet probably saved my life.
    I have to always use “probably” because it isn’t a scientific certainty that I would have perished without it. It is possible I would have recovered fully, or it’s possible I could be a vegetable, or any number of other possibilities. It is entirely possible that the idiot that turned in front of me could have waited just a few seconds for me to clear the intersection instead of sending me to the hospital, too.
    All that being said, it wasn’t the cycling that was dangerous, it was a lousy road design and an inattentive driver (on my bicycle I had the clear right of way, but he had a long day at work and was eager to get home).
    Now I need to go read more about helmet design.
    BTW, I found you through a comment you left at the Oil Drum…

  2. Shortly and bluntly:
    You have no idea whether the helmet probably saved your life. If I fall down while wearing a banana, and the banana gets pulped, did it probably save my life?
    Helmets are designed to crack very quickly on impact. A cracked helmet is not a sign of a fatal or even serious (averted) head injury; the helmet will crack at impacts which you would easily walk away from with no damage.

  3. After the ambulance ride, cat scan, hospital stay, etc. and three days of amnesia, you are correct: I don’t know. But since it is MY head, I’m glad it was there, because if it wasn’t, it might have been worse. Might have been the same, maybe even better, who knows? I have a hard time imagining having LESS amnesia if I wasn’t wearing a helmet, though. But you are correct, I may not have died, of course I may not be able to feed myself, either.
    Other people can do whatever they want with their heads, I’m not a nutty “pro helmet” activist or something.
    I’ve also been known to wear sunscreen and seat belts, but nobody has to make me do these things, either 🙂

  4. Ben,
    Unless you’re wearing your bike helmet in your car, you’re really not making sense here. The proper analogue to a bike helmet would be a car helmet – because, like on your bike, most deaths/major injuries are to the head.
    And if you don’t wear a helmet in your car, why not?

  5. Because my car has a metal roll cage encasing me, which I do not have on a bicycle. Also while riding (I have drop handlebars) my head and upper body are placed forward and likely to pitch faster that direction in a crash. My car has a front bumper and crumple zones designed to reduce impact from the front, as well as a huge engine (relative to a bicycle at least) between me and anything I hit. Saying that a 2,000 pound vehicle is the same as a 20 pound bicycle in terms of protection for the occupant doesn’t make sense. Yes they both travel on wheels, but there are so many other differences it is an apples and oranges comparison.
    Now seat belts might have saved my life too – I don’t know (see? I saved you having to say that). I was in a rollover accident at high speed and the car flipped a few times and then landed on it’s roof. I did not hit my head (not even a bruise) because the seat belt did it’s job, had I not been wearing a seat belt then yes, I would have needed a helmet (looking at what was left of the car).
    What is wrong with being cautious? As I said, I don’t make others wear helmets, I wear one for me and me alone.
    And looking back on these posts, I seem to be extraordinarily accident prone, but I’m not, I’ve just got a lotta miles on me…

  6. The apples to apples comparison is that even WITH your roll cage, seat belt, and air bag, you STILL stand about the same risk of a head injury in a car as you do on a bike.
    So why not wear your helmet inside the car?

  7. I hear what your saying but based only on my personal experience I have not found this to be the case. I have had several accidents over the years in cars and whatnot and never hit my head. I have had only one bicycle accident and severely damaged a GMC pickup using my head (which was wearing one of those nasty helmets at the time).
    So “statistics” can say whatever they want, in my world I’m much more likely to hit my head while riding a bicycle than when driving (based on an extremely small and biased sample). This could all change tomorrow (and probably will, now that I’ve written about it) Perhaps I’ll start wearing my helmet in my car from now on… 🙂

  8. I’ve commuted on a bike before helmets where required. I’ve don so after. What I discovered is that with a helmet, I just relax and fall. This means that I don’t bruse my ribs. Without a helmet, I was always putting my hands out and that transferred the impact to my ribs.
    I no longer ride a bike. I fell over and landed beside a pickup truck, actually adjacent to the wheel base. The truck wasn’t moving. The driver didn’t see me fall. I didn’t hit the truck. But, the truck did move while I was laying there too stuned to realize the danger I was in. My helmet bares the skid marks. That’s close enough to death for me.
    Recommendation, always impact the vehicle, so the driver knows you are there.

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