Do cyclists need a safety helmet?

Published on August 5 2013

Part of the attraction of cycling is the freedom it engenders in the cyclist – but with busier traffic on the UK’s roads, more cyclists are being seriously injured or killed.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a common occurrence in cyclists who are knocked from their bikes or fall under the wheels of heavy traffic.

Some cycling experts dispute the extent of the protection offered by safety helmets for cyclists, as head contact at speed in heavy traffic can break the protective inner lining which is the main defence for the head and brain.

In the US, cycling accidents constitute the main reason for people visiting A&E departments for treatment, with 89,389 cyclists being treated in US emergency rooms in 2009.

The American Association of Neurological Surgeons also points out that cycling accidents in the US are also the main source of injury among children aged 14 years and under, so some form of head protection seems an inevitable step in the fight against TBI among cyclists and children.

For many, wearing a cycling helmet can still feel like an imposition, but modern designs and colours can help turn a safety necessity into a fashion statement young cyclists will want to be seen in.

However, cycle helmets are only designed to protect against impacts if a cyclist is travelling at around 12mph and suffers a fall of around 1m onto a stationary surface – whereas many cyclists who are injured or killed on the UK’s roads are knocked from their bicycles in heavy traffic by other road users who simply failed to see them. Often the cyclist is dragged along or under a vehicle – and whereas wearing a helmet is undoubtedly better than not wearing a helmet, a safety helmet versus an HGV often turns out to be no contest in favour of the HGV.

Cyclists who suffer a head impact in a cycle accident are more than likely to sustain some form of concussion – and concussion can be mild, moderate or severe.

Even a mild concussion can result in more serious symptoms if a blood clot forms and is undetected – and a subdural haematoma (the medical name for a blood clot under the skull) can be potentially fatal or leave a patient with serious disability if not diagnosed and treated.

The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute has estimated than on average a cyclist may be involved in a road accident for around every 4,500 miles they cycle – and this may seem like favourable odds for avoiding an accident. However, some cyclists may set off with only a few miles under their belt and take a tumble – and even Sir Bradley Wiggins, the UK’s current cycling hero – has been hospitalised after being involved in an RTA (road traffic accident) within months of winning the Tour de France and showing off his cycling prowess at the 2012 Olympics.

Choosing a safety helmet which is comfortable and fits well is paramount, as a poorly fitting helmet may not offer adequate protection.

It is also important to choose the best cycling helmet you can afford – and be wary of secondhand cycle helmets in case they have been involved in an accident and the protective lining has been damaged.

Making sure you can see around you is also crucial for cyclists – especially if you ride in heavy traffic. Even country roads can be death traps for cyclists, as many road users think that rural areas afford the chance to “open up” their vehicle’s engine and go for broke, ignoring junctions, stop signs, narrow lanes and warnings about bends ahead, or cattle or farm vehicles on the road.

Flyaway hair should be firmly held in place while cycling – and protective glasses should not obscure or distort your vision.

The correct fit of a safety helmet for cyclists is also vital – and it is as well to get your headgear fitted professionally, as cycle dealers will know how the fit can affect protection. Cyclists should make sure they choose a helmet which protects as much of their head as possible, rather than opting for a cycle helmet which looks good but offers less protection.

Chin straps should also be firmly adjusted and comfortable – and it can take a while to find the right fitting which does not distract you from the road ahead by chafing.

In the UK, Department for Transport (DfT) statistics have shown that cycle deaths and injuries tend to rise during an economic recession – as they did in the 1930s, when road users switched to cycles away from more costly motor vehicles.

Deaths and injuries among children using cycles have recently declined, but some think this may be because fewer children use cycles these days than in previous generations.

Whatever the statistics suggest about cycle accidents, if you are going to suffer a head impact in a cycle accident, it is far better to be wearing a properly fitting safety helmet which protects as much of your cranium as possible – than offer up your unprotected skull to the mercy of a juggernaut in the rush hour, however cool cycling without a helmet might seem.

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click this link 02/03/2014 10:58

That was a relevant read! Most of the people ride cycle without taking necessary safety measures! I think this is not good! Wearing helmet and other safety accessories will helps you whenever you met with an accidents or similar scenarios!