Helmets: Are They Really as Safe as People Claim?

There’s nothing like the feel of the wind on your face as you zip around on a bicycle. Cyclists take to the road every year for pleasure, health, and a cost-effective and environmentally friendly mode of transportation.

Unfortunately, there are more than 700 bicycle accident related deaths annually, 75% of which are due to head injuries, which makes safety a primary concern. Many of us have been convinced (whether you’ve been in a bicycle accident or not) that a helmet keeps us safer on our rides, but that may not actually be the case.

Are Helmets Really  Safe?

This is a two-pronged debate: First, are cyclists less likely to sustain head injuries from a crash when they are wearing a helmet? Second, are cyclists more likely to get into an accident because they are wearing a helmet?

There appears to be solid bike helmet research and evidence to support both sides of the argument. Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of wearing a helmet and then explore some of the possible reasons for the contradicting  evidence.

Pros to Wearing a  Helmet

  • Head safety: It seems pretty obvious that if you were to have an accident, and your head were to hit the ground, you’d be safer having some sort of barrier protecting you. This is even more important for children as their brains are still  developing.In addition to protecting your head from the impact of striking the ground directly, a helmet can also limit the number of abrasions from the road if you slide against the road or  trail.
  • Increased visibility: Bike helmets are often made of bright or reflective colors that make it easier for motorists to see you at  night.
  • It’s the law: While there are no federal laws requiring the use of a bicycle helmet, 22 states including the District of Columbia and 201 localities have ordinances requiring minors to wear  helmets.

Cons to Wearing a  Helmet

  • Uncomfortable: You wanted the wind in your hair. Instead, you end up with your hair plastered to your head and drenched in sweat. Plus, the chin straps can irritate riders on a long  trip.
  • Cost: While not prohibitively expensive for one rider, the cost (around $30 to $50 each) can add up when you are protecting your entire  family.
  • Increased neck injuries: Studies have shown that while serious head injuries may be reduced when wearing a helmet, the neck and the back of the neck are not protected and there is still a risk of neck injury when wearing a  helmet.
  • Illusion of safety: Research at the University of Bath in 2006 showed that cyclists who wore helmets were actually more likely to be hit by motorists. This is because when drivers see a cyclist wearing a helmet, they become more careless and drive closer to the bicyclists, leading to more  collisions.

Why Don’t the Numbers Match  Up?

There are several factors that may contribute to discrepancies in the studies:

  • Cyclists who choose to wear helmets may be more cautious overall than cyclists who don’t, driving slower and taking fewer chances on the  road.
  • Other factors are introduced when people are required by law to wear helmets. They may not wear them properly. They may engage in “risk compensation” (driving unsafely due to feeling safer). Some may choose not to bicycle, or may bicycle more  slowly.
  • Some countries see low injury rates without helmets due to legislation to protect cyclists, non-risky cycling behavior, and good  infrastructure.
  • Drivers may stay further away from cyclists without helmets, creating a safer riding environment for  them.

How Do Helmets  Work?

Helmets are made with a hard plastic shell on the outside, a foam inside, and a strap to hold it in place. If you crash your bike, the foam cushioning works to absorb the force, protecting your head and saving your brain from trauma.

The plastic shell helps to slide, avoiding a jerking motion on your neck and protecting from debris.

Why Does It Seem Like the Number of Head Injuries Go Up Over  Time?

One would think that as technology improves, so would the efficacy of bike helmets. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Bike helmets were originally modeled after motorcycle helmets. They covered the entire head in a hard shell.

They may not have been comfortable or particularly breathable, but they were safe. Bike helmets are now being created with a softer shell and ventilation holes which allow the head to “breathe” and stay cool. This appears to provide less protection.

Should Cyclists Wear  Helmets?

While the debate rages on, most experts still advise wearing a helmet when riding a bicycle. However, it is important to purchase a well-made, sturdy, and well-fitting helmet, and wear it properly.

In addition, remember that while you may feel safer, you should be careful and vigilant of motorists at all times. The best way to prevent injuries from a bicycle crash is to ride safely and not crash in the first place.

States That Require Helmets by  Law

The following 22 states require helmets for minors. Please check local ordinances to see if there are  requirements.
●     Alabama●     California
●     Connecticut
●     Delaware
●     District of Columbia
●     Florida
●     Georgia
●     Hawaii
●     Louisiana
●     Maine
●     Maryland
●     Massachusetts
●     New Hampshire
●     New Jersey
●     New Mexico
●     New York
●     North Carolina
●     Oregon
●     Pennsylvania
●     Rhode Island
●     Tennessee
●     West Virginia

How to Practice Safer Helmet  Use

There are ways to ensure that your helmet (and your bike ride) is as safe as possible:

  • Ensure proper fit. A helmet should be level on your head, comfortably snug but not too tight. It should touch every part of your head and it should not shift on your head. First, select the right fit. Second, properly adjust the  straps.
  • Choose a brightly colored helmet (or white) to maximize  visibility.
  • Find a helmet with a smoothly rounded outer shell, no sharp ribs or snag points, and fewer vents so there is more contact between the foam and your  head.

Studies will likely be conducted for years to come. For now, choose a safe, well-fitting helmet, be keenly observant of motorists around you, and ride safely.

Dunkley Law Personal Injury Lawyers have spent the last ten years successfully representing clients in Henderson, Nevada and Salt Lake City,  Utah.

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.
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