To Wear a Helmet or Not?

Should you wear a helmet while bicycling or not?  I currently don’t; but I’m looking for a helmet that fits (I try on everyone in the store when I go.  I was surfing tonight and came across this Wikipedia article on Bicycle Helmets.  The text of the article may interest you:

Collision energy varies with the square of impact speed: a typical helmet will absorb the energy of a fall from a stationary or slow-moving bicycle, an impact speed of around 12mph, but will reduce the energy of a 30 mph impact to only 27.5 mph, and even this will be compromised if the helmet fails

So if you are going fast, the helmet isn’t very good.  Later on, I read:

Helmets are most effective in straight line, or linear, blows to the head at moderate speed. Helmets are not well designed to deal with high speed impacts or rotational stresses (crashes that are not centred, and involve rotation of the head). They are not designed to provide adequate protection for a collision involving another moving vehicle, (e.g. a car).

So if you are in an accident with a car, what is the point of a helmet…it isn’t designed to prtect against that threat!

The major source of serious injury to cyclists is impact with motor vehicles. Current helmet standards are inadequate to protect against such collisions, the energies involved are routinely in excess of the rated capacity of the best motorsport helmets. Helmets designed to higher standards have generally not sold well, while helmets designed to even lower standards have sold well. A helmet’s ability to absorb energy could be improved by increasing the volume of polystyrene, but this would make it thicker, heavier, and hotter to wear. The trend is towards thinner helmets with many large vents. This trend to lower standards has been noted in some of the studiesIt is relatively common for helmets to fail on test, and some helmets on sale are not certified to any accepted standard.

So here we see that helmet standards don’t protect against injury from the most common type of accident.  We also see that the trend is towards thinner lighter helmets.  Thinner = lighter = less foam stuff = less protection = what’s the point???  We then read:

Many believe that a helmet can save a cyclist’s life, an idea which is repeatedly asserted in debate. There is no sound evidential basis for this claim and there are no known cases where mass helmet use has actually reduced the number of cyclists’ deaths or serious head injuries. Association with increased risk of death has been reported. It is likely that helmets could prevent a significant number of minor cycling injuries but the overall safety benefits are inconclusive; this is thought to be in part due to risk compensation behaviour. A cost-benefit analysis of the New Zealand helmet law showed that the cost of helmets outweighed the savings in injuries even taking the most optimistic estimate of injuries prevented.

While a helmet may mitigate the effects of a fall or collision, other factors (such as maintenance, road conditions, and driver behaviour) are more important for reducing the chance of such accidents in the first place. In general, the value of bicycle helmets has been systematically overstated.

Some studies have even suggested that helmets increase risk. Although the head injury rate in the US rose by 40% as helmet use rose from 18% to 50%, this does not necessarily mean that helmets themselves increase risk.

Did you catch that? “no known cases where mass helmet use has actually reduced the number of cyclists’ deaths or serious head injuries.”

Then, I read:

Ordinary cycling is not demonstrably more dangerous than walking or driving, yet no country promotes helmets for either of these modes.

So, am I going to get a helmet?  Who knows.  Will I be safer?  It doesn’t look like it?  Or, if I am, I should also wear one while walking or skiing.  What’s the point of a bike helmet?

In the end, I think our “let’s get rid of all risk” and “blame someone else for a problem” attitude brought this on.  Clearly to be rational in our thinking, if we are going to mandate bike helmets then we should make people wear them while walking too.

[Update 05-28-2008  09:45:04] Go to this post to see a video about bike safety .

[Update 2014-05-31 10:22:50] There’s an article in the Telegraph today with a brain surgeon talking about this.

[Update 24 Feb 2019] Updated the link to the bike safety video

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