The Helmet Debate

I decided to do some searches regarding helmet safety, I found this interesting site that has information on both sides of the coin, here’s an example:

Evidence that helmets are effective
*Case-control studies generally support helmet use. The most widely-publicised studies claim that helmets reduce 90% of fatalities, 85% of head injuries and 88% of brain injuries.

*Literature reviews of medical evidence. These are based almost exclusively on case-control studies, and generally on the same subset of such studies.

*”A helmet saved my life”. The experiences of helmeted cyclists who have hit their heads in a crash and believe that their helmet has saved them from injury.

Evidence that casts doubt upon helmet efficacy
*Casualty trends from countries and towns where helmet use has become significant show no reductions in serious or fatal injuries attributable to helmets. In many cases the number or severity of injuries has increased.

*In USA, an increase in helmet-wearing from 18% to 50% of cyclists was accompanied by an increase in risk of head injury of 40%.

*Helmet laws in Australia and New Zealand have resulted in the great majority of cyclists wearing helmets, but there has been no reduction in rates of head injury relative to cycle use. Some data suggests these have increased.

*Detailed analysis of key case-control studies has highlighted serious flaws and methodological shortcomings.
Helmeted cyclists have been shown to be more likely to hit their heads if they crash and may be more likely to crash in the first place.

*Senior neurosurgeons have given evidence to court that helmets are only effective in preventing minor scalp lacerations and not more serious injuries.

*A prominent helmet test expert says most helmets are incapable of sustaining impacts of the type associated with serious crashes; helmets provide protection only in low impact crashes under favourable circumstances.
Medical evidence suggests that most serious head injuries sustained in road crashes are due to rotational forces, which cycle helmets do not mitigate. There is some evidence that cycle helmets may increase the likelihood of this type of injury.


So now that everything is clear as mud, is a cheaper helmet as safe as an expensive helmet? It is assumed that the reason why a helmet is so expensive is because of the number of vents and its design, but are more vents safer?

Here’s an exerpt from

Vents are Hot!
A major theme in the helmet market since 1997 has been more and larger air vents. All major manufacturers now have hyper-ventilated models following in the footsteps of Giro’s 1997 Helios model (now discontinued). Manufacturers tout the number of vents in their helmets, a meaningless parameter. If all else were equal, more vents would be a Good Thing, but as usual, all else is not equal. Unfortunately opening up new vents usually requires harder, more dense foam and squaring off the edges of the remaining foam ribs to squeeze out the most impact protection possible from the narrower pieces still there. Since we believe that rounder shells and less dense foam are virtues in a crash, we don’t recommend hyper-vented helmets unless you can’t live without the added ventilation.

From a personal experience, I haven’t had the necessity to test my helmets while commuting or riding on the road (no, I will not test them unnecessarily) but and even though I had my spills while riding off road, I can’t really say that my helmets have saved me since I have never landed on my head. Does a helmet make me feel safer and therefore braver? I can’t say they do, all I know that if a helmet has a 1% better chance of saving my butt and getting me home to my family, its a damn good 1%.

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0 thoughts on “The Helmet Debate”

  1. […] . So its a helmet a life saver or just a marketing ploy? […]

  2. BC says:

    I know from experience that my helmets have saved my life 3 times (although all 3 times were on the road, and not the dirt). Twice from my own stupidity, and once from being hit by a car. I definitely feel safer and more confident with my helmet on, and won’t ride without it now.

  3. todd says:

    Lies, damn lies, and statistics. Numbers can be twisted to prove anything you’d like.

    I can’t say the helmets have “saved my life” but they have saved me from significant injury. I wouldn’t ride without one either.

    Good point about the vents, though.

  4. Richard Gravois says:

    Helmets seem to make the rider more sober and conscious of the mismatch between the bike and the car.

    If it helps the car driver see the bicyclist, then good. In retrospect, maybe this increased visibility is the most important feature of the helmet.

    Whether the bike hits the car or the car hits the bike, it’s going to be bad for the bike.

  5. pj says:

    Well, first of all, how do you know if the helmets saved you from a serious injury? The only way to really find out would be to have you have two same accidents, one with helmet and one without. Since no one can or would do such an experiment anyone’s tale of saving skull and brain with helmet is an anecdotal evidence.
    Second, the issue of safety in bike commuters is, I believe, not protecting your head from a racing car that will hit you. How much of added protection do you get when you are still exposed to dangerous road conditions with maniacs who drive right next to you? And seriously, when was last time you fell and banged your head while you were biking on a quiet road without disturbance? Even biking through kilometers in pot-hole filled streets with speedy cars, I have never had a major accident.
    On the other hand now let’s look at countries like Japan and China where millions of people commute everyday on bike. In China, there are one full lane on most large streets just for the bikes on each direction. No one wears helmets. But I bet they are much better protected from a serious accidents than any joe in North America who bikes alone in a large streets filled with SUV’s. It’s all in numbers. The more people commute on bike, the more privileges they will get on the road and the safer it will be to commute on bike with or without helmet. Having a safe bike path or bike lane is a much better protection than stupid piece of styrofoam on your head.
    On the other hand, forcing people to have helmets probably discourage quite a large population of fashion conscious animals that we are. Just ask a lady with $100 hair do to wear one of those things and then take shower when they get to work. Ask a teen ager boy with spikes all over to wear it. In fact, I bet the helmet cultures not only give minimal protection for your head but make you lose potential bikers who could fill the street for more privilege for you.

    Seriously, I think making everybody wear the stupid helmet doesn’t help much of anything to promote biker’s right. I do believe in helmets and I would never hit MTB trail without one, and I do have my own stories of saving precious brain cells because of my helmet. But requiring helmets for all commuters doesn’t add up, in my humble opinion.

  6. Marc Wadaga says:

    I’m a huge helmet supporter and I like the argument of increased visibility. One question I have, however, is why don’t helmet manufacturers do a better job at increasing the visibility of their helmets? Would it be so bad to make a helmet completely reflective, or glow in the dark? Heck, I’d settle for a small reflectrive stripe on the helmets, like in the old days. I ride home from work at 9 or 10 p.m. I would love to have more reflectivity on the darned thing.

  7. pat shearer says:

    As a Respiratory therapist I can say that I have seen my fair share of traumatic injuries come into the emergency room. In all the years the number of people with significant brain injuries have always been people NOT wearing a helmet. As a cyclist and a healthcare worker I strongly encourage helmet use.

  8. Brian Miller says:

    I crashed at 17mph in the weeds, and I flipped end-over-end three times. After it was over, a ligament in my left knee was destroyed, I had a divot missing in the flesh over my kneecap, and my helment no longer fit at all. I’ll ride with a good helmet, thanks very much.

  9. BornInZion says:

    Get some 3M reflective tape and cut into thin short strips. I have covered my old Bell hemet compleatly that way and I have been very happy with the result.
    While I would never ride without my helmet, I oppose any law to mandate their use,

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