What is wrong with bicycle helmets?
October 28, 2011 2:12 PM Subscribe
What is wrong with bicycle helmets?It is at first surprising to many people that the wearing of helmets by cyclists is a controversial subject. However, cycling safety is a much more complex issue than many people realize, where best evidence and real-world experience sometimes conflict with received opinion. Key considerations about risk when cycling, what influences cycling safety and the inter-relationships between safety interventions, cycle use, behavior and health (both individual and public) are often poorly understood. In particular, opinions as to whether cycle helmets are an appropriate, proportionate or effective intervention are often dominated by emotion and expressed with exaggeration, which can make it difficult to know what to believe.
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The Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation (BHRF) and cyclehelmets.org were established to provide a resource of best-available factual information and to challenge evidence and policies that do not stand up to scrutiny. BHRF is pro-cycling and pro-health and seeks to judge the evidence on its merits. This overview is an attempt to distill the most important evidence and arguments about cycle helmets.
Robinson DL. No clear evidence from countries that have enforced the wearing of helmets
. BMJ, 2006;332:722.
Hagel B, Macpherson A, Rivara FP, Pless B. Arguments against helmet legislation are flawed
. BMJ, BMJ 2006;332:725-726.
An introduction to the objective risk assessment of cycling
Safety in numbers
How cycling is safer the more people who cycle
Assessing the actual risks faced by cyclists (PDF)
Wardlaw MJ 2002. Traffic Engineering + Control: Dec 2002 p352-356
Test your perceptions of bike safety
Risk Compensation & Helmet Wearing (PDF)
Published in 'Injury Prevention', June 2001
The health risks and benefits of cycling in urban environments compared with car use
Rojas-Rueda D, de_Nazelle A, Tainio M, Nieuwenhuijsen MJ. BMJ 2011; 343:d4521 The health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks by 77 to 1, in a city where few people wear helmets.
Choose the yum and risk the yuk?
The University of Cambridge's Professor of Risk Understanding (who cycles without a helmet) notes that the balance between risk and benefit is not straight-forward
Many people who wear helmets can relate their experience of a crash which leads them to believe that a helmet 'saved their life'. This is a very common experience - very much more common, in fact, than the actual number of life-threatening injuries suffered by bare-headed cyclists. Yet there is no evidence that helmets save lives or prevent serious injury at all across cyclists as a whole
Frequently asked questions
How likely is head injury when cycling?
Is cycling without a helmet dangerous?
What evidence supports helmet use?
What evidence is there that cycle helmets save lives?
What evidence is there that cycle helmets reduce serious injury?
Do helmet promotion and helmet laws affect cycle use?
What is the balance of advantage?
What is the cost-benefit of helmet use?
What is the most effective way to make cycling safer?
If car occupants must wear seat belts, why shouldn't cyclists wear helmets?