Do Helmets actually save lives?

A new university study has found that helmets worn by cyclists could well save their lives, particularly in collisions with slower moving cars.

The debate has raged among safety campaigners and cyclists about how effective helmets really area in the event of a crash.

But this latest academic study from University College Dublin (UCD) which looks at 37 road deaths involving cyclists over 10 years, firmly backs the “significant protection” that helmets offer to cyclists.

Professor Michael Gilchrist, head of UCD’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, staged computer reconstructions of all the fatal collisions to determine whether headgear would have changed the outcomes. The research also included eye witness testimonies from drivers and bystanders, post-mortem examination reports, vehicle damage reports for the bicycles and motor-vehicles, as well as and on-site measurements and photographs.

His findings show bicycle helmets offer “effective protection at low speeds of less than 31 mph (50kph)”. Along with this helmets can offer cyclists protection against secondary impacts from the ground after the initial collision. But it does suggest headgear become far less protective the faster cars are travelling, and were of “minimal” use in crashes with cars travelling at more than 31 mph (50kph).

However Prof Gilchrist, despite calling for better headgear to be designed and manufactured, still strongly recommends the wearing of helmets, “The results indicate helmets should be worn as they do provide significant protection,” he said.

The study concluded that some of the deaths studied could have been prevented with helmets, while the severity of injuries could also be reduced.

The debate around wearing helmets has continued for some time. Last year, a leading neurosurgeon and keen cyclist Dr Henry Marsh argued that helmets were often ‘’too flimsy’’ and he believes many of the casualties which he has seen, haven’t been helped by their helmets. He also said he doesn’t ride a helmet when cycling himself, claiming that countries where helmets are compulsory, see no reduction in injuries.

A previous study by the University of Bath claimed cyclists who wear helmets are more likely to be hit by overtaking vehicles. It found that drivers get more than 8cm (3.1in) closer to cyclists wearing helmets than they do to riders without, possibly because they are seen as being more experienced. Along with this it found that female cyclists are given more room on the road compared to their male counterparts.