Bike helmets and safety: a case study in difficult epidemiology


Helmets prevent the big ragged scar across the forehead that results from face-planting on gravel or pavement. I’m not sure if that makes the count of head injuries.


Countdown to ‘I saw a cyclist run a red light so they are all crazy’ posts begins now…


I was busy driving along at 15+ km over the speed limit like everyone does all the time, listening to my car stereo at ear-splitting volume so I can’t hear other cars or sirens, weaving around turning vehicles without slowing or checking my blind spots, straddling the centre line on corners and just random places along the road, and and and this this this GUY - this CYCLIST - had no helmet and passed me when I got stuck in gridlock!!


That’s why I am very much against helmet laws. Intentional or not, helmet laws marginalize cyclists. It is just the first step towards lycra-clad freakishness. Efforts to make helmets mandatory hurt cycling as a mode of transportation and threaten to reduce it to a sport.


It didn’t miss that. Read the article.

I would love to know if there is a marked difference between countries like Australia that have historically embraced safety laws early and with less resistance (eg seat belts, motorcycle helmets, drink driving) and those that are perhaps more resistant (eg the USA) when it come to te impact of cycling laws. Cycling is booming as transport and sport here in Australia which has strong helmet laws.

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No, the article makes that point very clear.

I am really not sure how helmets prevent head damage. I have been crashed into by cars on a few occasions, one time bouncing off the hood/bonnet then spinning through the air but I didn’t bang my head because I put my hands down to break my fall. I have also slipped on oil patches on a few occasions while cornering at high speed but again I never hurt my head because I put my arms down to break my fall. On one occasion I hit a deep pothole and somehow went flying over the handlebars, my whole bike up-ended on the front wheel and I went completely over with my bike following me but again I put my hands down to break my fall, I rolled thereby making sure my head didn’t hit the floor. I can easily use my neck to angle my head away from the floor, which in combination with intelligent usage of my arms I can avoid banging my head. I am not a stunt-person, I am strong but not noticeably so, I don’t think I am unusual regarding my ability to make sure my head doesn’t hit the ground, I think I am merely intelligent and fit. Unfit stupid people should be forced to wear helmets perhaps.

Statistically I think elderly people are more likely to suffer traumatic brain injury when merely walking down the streets, but should elderly people be forced to wear helmets while going about their everyday affairs? Drinking alcohol also significantly increases the risk of falling (not while on a bicycle), drinkers are more likely to suffer head injuries, thus maybe all people drinking alcohol should be forced to wear a helmet?

There is a tendency amongst some people to hysterically clamour of strict regulation regarding every aspect of our lives, for safety, which is an oppressive type of control. Obesity kills far more people than cycling thus maybe it should be illegal to eat more than a certain amount of calories each day, maybe government sensors should be compulsory to monitor what people eat? I think the sane solution is to allow people to do whatever they want providing they are not hurting other people, thus elderly people should not be forced to wear helmets when going about their daily affairs, cyclists should not be forced to wear helmets, and governments should not control what we eat to prevent obesity.

So Preston Sturges you think wearing a helmet would prevent forehead scars but I am not sure how valid your viewpoint is. I think if a cyclist is hitting the ground face first then the forehead part of the helmet may ensure the cyclist receives a massive nose, teeth, or chin injury. I would prefer to scar my forehead than have my front teeth smashed out, or are you recommending full-face helmets?

From my viewpoint I think wearing a helmet would actually be more dangerous because the increased head-size due to the helmet could possibly restrict my ability to move my arms quickly around my head area when I agilely roll to break my fall, thus wearing a helmet could cause a serious head injury for me if I crash because the helmet would likely restrict my movement, my agility, I would be less free to move in an unrestrained manner, thus my ability to self-protect my head could be diminished due to the physical restrictions of the helmet.

I think freedom should triumph over safely especially when freedom hurts nobody else. Via excessive regulation for safety we risk creating an Orwellian open prison. Reliance on externally imposed safety means people are less inclined to depend on their internal controls, their brains, which means people actually become more dangerous because they are ceasing to think, their thinking, independence of mind, has been supplanted by external control thus their self-reliance and self-determination withers, they become institutionalised robots who need to be guided and supervised in every aspect of their lives, they cannot think or act for themselves, they need to be told what to do all the time, they cannot think how to protect themselves they need an authoritarian protector.

There are my reason why I think helmets could limit physical and psychological reactions to danger.

I think the real reason some people clamour for cyclists to wear helmets is that they resent the independence of mind enjoyed by cyclists. Generally I think the clamouring comes from motorists who want to punish cyclists because motorists hate the freedom cyclist have, thus the need to protect health is a specious argument because the actual motive for the clamouring is punitive.


So the benefit of a helmet is negated by bikers taking more risks because they feel safer, by among other things cycling faster. So if people get around faster with no net increase in accidents, doesn’t that mean helmets can still be defended as productivity enhancers?


Risk compensation could also be due to motorists giving cyclist less room because the helmet means motorists may think the helmet makes the cyclist safer but less room means more crashes. There are actually more accidents when people wear helmets, the increased accident rate is not generated via the supposedly safer helmet. So the answer is no, helmets cannot be defended as productivity enhancers.


Difficult to say with adults, but I know I personally feel naked without a helmet (or a seatbelt). And my kids don’t ride anything without a helmet, and won’t until they are adults.


It is tempting to wrap your children in cotton wool but children tend to be very resilient when they bang their heads or graze their knees. I think children who grow up with the awareness of what it feels like to bang their heads without a helmet will actually be safer because they are more aware of the dangers, they will be more self-reliant able to think quickly because they have not been excessively shielded from the dangers of the world.

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I don’t think anyone here is against helmets as such. If you prefer to wear a helmet, then you definitely should. However many people are perfectly comfortable without one riding half a mile to the shop via quiet residential streets or bike lanes. If you force everyone to wear one, then you are creating additional barriers for potential cyclists. That might be justified if the benefits were overwhelming, but I am not seeing that.


There’s more data from Australia because of the early adoption, but I don’t think there’s any marked difference:’s-helmet-law-disaster


My kids are hardly excessively shielded. My older son has been full speed
ahead since he could crawl. He has been trying to do backflips on his bike
since he was five. He is wearing a helmet and it is not a bubble wrap


As someone who was T-boned by a little old lady blowing through a red light at 40mph, all I can say is always wear a helmet. Mine was broken in three places, but I had no head injury. Six broken ribs and a shoulder blade plus punctured lung and kidney. She knocked me 20 feet. My bike went 90 feet. My head hit her car and it hit the pavement. I’d be dead or braindamaged if it wasn’t for my helmet. I never lost consciousness. I was in the hospital for 24 hours. A few weeks ago I saw a guy get hit in a manner not unlike mine, but half the speed. No helmet. I held his hand while the paramedics arrived. His eyes were rolled back in his badly scraped head and his breathing was raspy and shallow. He was unresponsive. He was put into critical condition; I don’t know if he lived.

Wear a helmet. Always.


As a 20 year London cycling vet, I’m anti-helmets.

I used to ride motorbikes a lot. One thing that being a biker in central London taught me was that on two wheels, you have to adopt a completely different mindset to car drivers - you have to be faster, smarter and like a good chess player, thinking 3 or 4 moves ahead.

Like motorcyclists, cyclists (in London at least), in order to be succesful (ie not get killed), you have to have pigeon like reflexes, 360 degree vision, bat-like hearing and a healthy reserve of energy in order to make rapid emergency sprint manouevers. Wearing a helmet is not going to protect cyclists from idiot car, bus or lorry drivers who are too busy checking their Facebook feed to pay attention to vulnerable cyclists.

I could think of many things that would definitely improve road safety for cyclists, ie: banning headphones, better lane segregation, government encouraging cycling as a way of life (ie for shopping, taking the kids to schools)

When my son is old enough to take the stabilisers off his bike, sure I will make him wear protection, but compulsory helmets for all cyclists is not the way forward.


That’s simple, the impact foam inside of the helmet absorbs energy and extends your head’s stopping time, thus reducing the likelihood you’ll get serious brain damage.

Of course, the best way to prevent an accident is to be aware of your surroundings and treat cars like they can’t see you (hint: they never do), but you may run into certain situations that are out of your control. For example, someone hitting you from behind, or a car that makes a sudden blind turn. I had a friend get hit in the latter situation, and he ended up colliding with the car head-on against the windshield. He doesn’t remember riding down that day, but he was glad for his helmet.

Open face helmets are a safety compromise. They protect the most important bits of your head, in return for being something normal people will wear everyday. If you faceplant, yes you’ll likely break teeth, get roadrash and maybe break your nose.

Motorcyclists who ride at much faster speeds have a saying which is: All The Gear All The Time, as it’s just a matter of time until you get into an accident. It’s up to you to decide how much risk you want to take, but when that accident happens do you want your gear on, or your bare skull meeting the pavement?


[quote=“2045singularity, post:10, topic:16635”]
the helmet could possibly restrict my ability to move my arms quickly around my head area when I agilely roll to break my fall, thus wearing a helmet could cause a serious head injury for me if I crash because the helmet would likely restrict my movement, my agility, I would be less free to move in an unrestrained manner, thus my ability to self-protect my head could be diminished due to the physical restrictions of the helmet.[/quote]
So much hubris.