Use Your Head: Wear A Helmet

We’re all here, in Oxford, because of what’s in our heads and how we use them – it’s the one thing we all have in common. If we were to lose that, where would we be I wonder, and indeed, who would we be?

Huge numbers of us cycle on a daily basis, between our various colleges and departments, it’s great way to get around cheaply to wherever you want, whenever you want, but it is not without a degree of associated risk. And yet, despite this, very few of us in fact protect our most valuable asset, our heads!

Cycle safety may make you yawn and criticise me for sounding like your mother, but my awareness of head injuries and their consequences is now unfortunately part of my daily life.  Not that it happened to me on the roads, but instead about two years ago in a freak accident during the rowing regatta Torpids.  The impact itself wasn’t that severe, but has changed my life ever since. Headaches, dizziness, nausea, as well as various cognitive deficits in memory, the time it takes for me to process information and even in my ability to control my emotions, are all part and parcel of the ever uncertain world of having a brain injury.

Although head injuries, as well as all sorts of other accidents, can happen at any time, in any place, when we cycle we increase our exposure to this risk. 

You may have heard of James Cracknell, double Olympic gold medallist and rowing champion. Since retiring from competitive racing in 2004, he’s undertaken various physical challenges pushing his body to the limit. He’s rowed across the Atlantic with Ben Fogle and completed the gruelling Marathon Des Sables, running seven marathons in six days.  In July 2010 whilst attempting to cycle, run, row and swim across America, James, cycling, was hit from behind by a truck at 70mph. Seriously injured, James was in a coma and when eventually came to, found that his whole life had changed. From being invincible, he had a severely altered personality and had to re-learn how to do even the simplest of tasks. He was, however, alive.

James owes his life to his helmet, which was split down the middle.  He is now a spokesperson for the brain injury charity Headway, the charity that gave me help during a period of medical leave after my accident. Headway have long been campaigning for cycle helmets to be made compulsory for children cycling on roads, and are always trying to raise awareness of the potential consequences of a brain injury to try and all encourage cyclists to wear them.

James Cracknell has recently produced an appeal video in association with Headway with the title – ‘Use your head. Use your helmet’. “I used to be James Cracknell”, he says, “now I’m nearly James Cracknell”, showing how much this incident has changed his entire life, including his personality.  He urges cyclists to wear helmets, “I was lucky…some cyclists will never ride again”. The shock tactic may sound dramatic, but these are real accidents, happening to real people, and if it encourages just one person to wear a helmet, that may just save their life.

So how much of a help is a helmet exactly? Well the Cochrane Foundation Review have investigated this very question. The report found that wearing a helmet reduced the risk of head or brain injury by approximately two-thirds, regardless of whether the incident involves a motor vehicle or not. It was stated that: “Helmets provide a 63-88% reduction in the risk of head, brain and severe brain injury for all ages of bicyclists. Helmets provide equal levels of protection for crashes involving motor vehicles (69%) and crashes from all other causes (68%). Injuries to the upper and mid facial areas are reduced 65%”[1].  It was also noted that head injuries make up for around three quarters of deaths among bicyclists involved in crashes.

Whilst deaths on the roads are decreasing year on year, the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured has risen for the last three years. Headway estimates that there are around 190,000 cycling accidents each year in the UK alone. The rising evidence showing the undeniable effectiveness of helmets, and the increasing number of people involved in accidents has encouraged many countries and states to make them compulsory, especially for under-18s. For example, in Victoria, Australia there has been a 41% decline in the number of cycling related head injuries since the change in the law. Jersey followed suit in 2010 and is already seeing the benefits of having done so.

A common excuse for not wearing a helmet, particularly among students, is the expense. But fear not, recent studies by the Bicycle Safety Institute have shown that there’s no need to buy an expensive helmet, a cheaper model will work just as effectively. Their report states that, “We submitted samples of six helmet models to a leading U.S. test lab: three in the $150+ range and three under $20. The impact test results were virtually identical. There were very few differences in performance among the helmets. Our conclusion: when you pay more for a helmet you may get an easier fit, more vents and snazzier graphics. But the basic impact protection of the cheap helmets we tested equalled the expensive ones.” Their advice is to just look for a helmet that fits you well and is comfortable.

But enough of statistics and numbers, what about the cost to the individual? The charity Headway helps people who’ve suffered brain injuries and their families on ground level; they see how it has changed people’s lives. A spokesperson for the charity says, “Here at Headway, we know the devastating effects a brain injury can have and how easy it can be to damage the brain. A number of Headway service users sustained their injuries through cycling accidents and now face spending the rest of their lives wishing they’d chosen to wear a helmet. To those people, statistics are meaningless; of far greater value is the common sense notion that wearing a helmet will help protect one’s fragile skull.”

In the last term alone, several of my close friends have had accidents or near misses cycling in Oxford; whether it’s being cut up by taxis, swerving buses or falling foul of those pedestrians who think they can just walk out across oncoming traffic without looking. And I’ve seen a few more; a couple of people turning a corner on a road wet from raining, who came flying off, and most notably my support worker from the Disability Advisory Service who was hit by a steel girder falling from a construction site on George Street fracturing her skull.  If she’d been wearing a helmet, would it have been less serious?  We’ll never know.

I think because there are so many cyclists in Oxford, and that the motorists are relatively tolerant of us, we are complacent about the potential dangers of cycling on the streets. But we shouldn’t have to wait for occasions like these to persuade us that it’s a good idea to wear a helmet, and, even after these experiences there are many who just brush themselves off and carry on as they did before.

You never know if or when something may happen to you – but you should take every precaution to make sure that you protect the most important part of yourself. Broken bones will mend, bruises and grazes will heal, but hurt your head, even in a minor way and you might never come back fully from that. Brain injuries are a funny thing, you could have a serious impact and recover fully in weeks or months, or have a relatively minor impact that leaves you changed forever. Peter McCabe, Chief Executive of Headway, said: “There is a general misconception that only a major impact will lead to death or disability from a head injury. However, the truth of the matter is that sometimes even minor bangs to the head can have serious consequences”

So why take that chance? And forget long-term consequences of a brain injury, if you have a really bad accident – a helmet might just save your life.  With my injury there was nothing I could have done differently to prevent it, but if something happens to you on a bike after reading this, and you didn’t take the advice, you would regret it. Please, take it from someone who knows what this could do to your life: Use your head. Wear a helmet.

The appeal video from James Cracknell can be found on – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nu4QzAIayTU


PHOTO/tejvanphotos

January 2012
S M T W T F S
« Dec   Feb »
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031  

68 Responses to "Use Your Head: Wear A Helmet"

  1. Richard Burton  25/01/2012 at 22:08

    @ John

    “When I was laying in A&E following a cycle accident in 1997; the Doctor took one look at my split helmet and told me if I wasn’t wearing it I’d be dead.” And do tell me, would you trust a mechanical engineer with your health? Because you seem to think that a doctor has the same knowledge as a mechanical engineer, who would actually be able to tell you whether your helmet was any use at all. Here’s a clue: doctors aren’t mechanical engineers, and are completely unable to tell whether a helmet saved your life. And all the reliable evidence shows that a helmet is of no use at all.

    “My friend was in a cycle accident in 2011. He was also told that if his smashed helmet had saved his life.” In that case, you are a statistical freak. For one person to have their life saved by a cycle helmet is slightly less likely than winning the national lottery, and for that person know someone else whose life was also saved by a helmet isn’t just unlikely, it’s unbelievable. So which is it? Is there some completely, billion to one random chance that threw two helmet survivors together, or is it that the people who told you that a helmet saved your lives were completely misinformed? Just google for helmet saved my life stories and compare it to the death rate of cyclists in countries with a helmet law. Did the death rate of cyclists fall after the introduction of the law? Or did it just fall in line with the reduction in cyclists?

    “If people choose not to wear helmets that’s fine by me but please do carry a donor card just in case… http://www.organdonation.nhs.uk” Thanks for the advice, but it might be better directed at non-cyclists, as regular cyclists, with or without a helmet, live longer and suffer less from all forms of illness than the general public.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +5 (from 5 votes)
  2. Richard Burton  25/01/2012 at 22:17

    @ Lance Armstrong

    “Somewhere, far far away from Oxford, in a room whose walls I imagine are plastered with pictures of bicycle accidents, and whose surfaces I expect are stacked with stolen bicycle helmets and large amounts of prescribed psychiatric medications, is a little man typing furiously away at his lonesome computer. This room is distinguished by a notable absence of a bicycle helmet, this man by the distinct aura of petty obsession. He is undoubtedly enjoying the brief infamous moment that his inane comments have provoked – but perhaps, dear friends, we should let him. It is the brightest his star will ever shine. His comments have no doubt attracted an unprecedented and unexpected readership of his MSC – I imagine hits have increased from zero to something like three. So perhaps we should resign from this quarrel, and let him have his moment. For never again will anyone care about Richard Burton – or as I like to call him, Dick.”

    Thanks Lance (nice name by the way) for confirming that the helmet proponents have failed completely. After you’ve failed to confound your opponent’s arguments, failed to prove them wrong on any count, failed to challenge their position at all, then you can only resort to ridicule.

    Failure. Total. Utter. Complete.

    Thanks again.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +2 (from 4 votes)
  3. Jonny Wildman  26/01/2012 at 23:23

    Please somebody invent a cycle helmet that definitely works and put an end to this madness.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  4. Jonny Wildman  27/01/2012 at 00:08

    And make it cheap so nobody will mistake it for a conspiracy.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  5. Richard Burton  27/01/2012 at 13:01

    The most balanced web article I can find, definitely worth a read

    http://www.chapmancentral.co.uk/wiki/Cycle_helmet_debate

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
  6. Jane  28/01/2012 at 16:41

    @Richard Burton

    Had a look at the last link you’ve posted (sorry, didn’t have time to look at all the others) and it’s actually a really interesting read. It’s a debate which I didn’t know existed, so thank you for bringing it to my attention.

    This whole thread has become, to quote from the link you just posted, “a bit like the two old women shouting between top-floor windows on opposite sides of a mediaeval street: they are arguing from different premises”. You seem to be on a bit of an anti-cycle helmet crusade and, to be brutally honest, everyone else just wants you to go away.

    Now, that doesn’t sound very fair – because you obviously have a lot to say, and as I said, I do think it’s an interesting debate and it’s not a bad thing to draw more attention to it. However, you set the tone of this thread with your initial post: aggressive, condescending and unpleasant. While I assume you were irritated with the propagation of an idea you believe fundamentally false, it came across as a personal attack on someone who was writing, as Marie-France said, with the best intentions, reflecting on her personal experiences and without having devoted years of her life to reading scientific studies on cycle helmets.

    So thanks for the links and info, but next time you disagree with someone why don’t you try and be a bit less mean? Then maybe the conversation that follows will be more responsive and involve less Richard bashing.

    Here’s a link in return:

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
  7. Richard Burton  29/01/2012 at 15:17

    @ Jane

    “Had a look at the last link you’ve posted (sorry, didn’t have time to look at all the others) and it’s actually a really interesting read. It’s a debate which I didn’t know existed, so thank you for bringing it to my attention.” Thanks for looking at it Jane. Thought provoking isn’t it?

    “This whole thread has become, to quote from the link you just posted, “a bit like the two old women shouting between top-floor windows on opposite sides of a mediaeval street: they are arguing from different premises”.” But almost all of the research on one side has been shown not to be reliable, while that on the other side has been shown to be reliable, but almost everyone believes the first side: now why would that be?

    “You seem to be on a bit of an anti-cycle helmet crusade and, to be brutally honest, everyone else just wants you to go away. No, I’m not anti-helmet, I’m anti-compulsion, and to my shame, I was one of the first people around here to wear one. Perhaps that goes some way to explaining why I feel so strongly about the misinformation being so widely spread about them. I’m sure everyone else would like it if I just went away. I know that it’s very hard to admit that you are wrong and the assumptions you’ve made and information you’ve been given are wrong, but doing so is a very important lesson for life.

    “Now, that doesn’t sound very fair – because you obviously have a lot to say, and as I said, I do think it’s an interesting debate and it’s not a bad thing to draw more attention to it. However, you set the tone of this thread with your initial post: aggressive, condescending and unpleasant. While I assume you were irritated with the propagation of an idea you believe fundamentally false, it came across as a personal attack on someone who was writing, as Marie-France said, with the best intentions, reflecting on her personal experiences and without having devoted years of her life to reading scientific studies on cycle helmets.” I’m sorry if it came across as a personal attack on Marie-France, but I thought I’d made it clear that I consider the villain of the piece to be Headway, who have a history of using people to further their own ends.

    “So thanks for the links and info, but next time you disagree with someone why don’t you try and be a bit less mean? Then maybe the conversation that follows will be more responsive and involve less Richard bashing.” Thanks for the advice, I’ll try and be a little more diplomatic in future. But it is hard to be so when almost all reports about cycle helmets are completely misinformed and are effectively propaganda, and almost everyone has been taken in by them.

    Thanks for the link, nice music.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 2 votes)
  8. Yes  29/01/2012 at 17:52

    All in favour of an interview with Richard Burton next week?

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
  9. Pingback: You used to be… | Jesus College MCR

  10. Pingback: Use Your Head: Wear A Helmet | Funny Accident Videos

  11. Me  13/02/2012 at 21:24

    Absolutely. Would be a hoot!

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  12. Maddy  13/02/2012 at 21:29

    Had a bike accident this week and went to the doctor to get checked out. First thing she asked me was “were you wearing a helmet?” When i replied “no”, she told me I should go out and buy one. Thanks to @Richard Burton, I was able to tell her to f*ck off and stop being James Cracknell’s propaganda machine, funding the giant bike helmet conglomerates that are, as we speak, funding terrorism, dictators and communism across the globe. She didn’t see that one coming. Thanks Richard! :)

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 2 votes)
  13. Richard Burton  14/02/2012 at 23:30

    Maddy says:
    13/02/2012 at 21:29

    Had a bike accident this week and went to the doctor to get checked out. First thing she asked me was “were you wearing a helmet?” When i replied “no”, she told me I should go out and buy one. Thanks to @Richard Burton, I was able to tell her to f*ck off and stop being James Cracknell’s propaganda machine, funding the giant bike helmet conglomerates that are, as we speak, funding terrorism, dictators and communism across the globe. She didn’t see that one coming. Thanks Richard! :)

    Oh wow. Another informed, erudite refutation. Fact-free, but who cares, opinion is so much better than fact isn’t it?

    It’s really informative, if somewhat sad, to see just how easily influenced are the youth of today.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +1 (from 3 votes)
  14. Maddy  19/02/2012 at 10:46

    @Richard Burton, I don’t understand. I’m ON YOUR SIDE!!!!!1! I didn’t hurt my head at all in my accident, but that’s all down to the fact that I wasn’t wearing a helmet. And thank god I wasn’t. Had I been, the car wouldn’t have hit my back wheel but instead would have probably clouted my (due to the helmet, now double-sized) head, which invariably would have killed me. Richard, I owe my life to you and am forever in your debt.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +1 (from 3 votes)
  15. Maddy  22/02/2012 at 17:09

    @Richard Burton? Please? Talk to me… :(

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
  16. Alan  19/04/2012 at 08:26

    The basic message surely ought to be, if you cycle you will, statistically, live longer than if you don’t. Compared to this big picture, helmet-wearing is actually a relatively minor detail.

    A British Medical Association report in the mid-1990s (“Cycling: Towards Health and Safety” by Mayhew Hillman) included a comparison between the overall life years gained by cycling from improved general fitness and the life years lost through accident. They concluded that the gains outweighed the losses by a factor of about 20 to 1.

    Although the report was primarily aimed at policy-makers, this result is nonetheless also instructive for the individual considering whether to take up cycling. Should they be scared by your statistics if they don’t wear a helmet?

    In particular, let’s try to compare life years lost versus life years gained between two groups: non-cyclists, and non-helmet-wearing cyclists.

    The Hillman report did not, to my recollection, break down the result I’ve quoted above into helmet-wearers versus non-helmet-wearers. But let’s consider the most extreme possible pro-helmets case that could be made (even though not borne out by your statistics), that *all* cyclists’ road deaths are due to head injuries and that helmets are *100%* effective at preventing them. Under that hypothesis, we would then apportion *all* of the life years lost to the non-helmet-wearing group. We now need to ask how big this group was.

    In the 1990s (i.e. around the time of the report), I recall seeing a figure that about a third of cyclists were wearing helmets. Admittedly this is approximate and I’ve lost the source for it (it may have been in the report but I’m not sure), but please bear with it because it’s a believable number and I think it will do for this rather rough exercise. This means that the non-helmet-wearers in Hillman’s study will have made up, roughly, two thirds of the cyclists.

    If we were then to attribute all the life-years-lost to the non-helmet-wearing group consisting two thirds of cyclists, while of course allowing that group still only their proportionate share of the life-years-gained, then we would have to scale this impressive 20:1 ratio by 2/3, giving about 13:1. Obviously that figure is now too accurate given the assumptions, but I think what we can reasonably conclude is the following:

    ** Even under the most favourable pro-helmet-wearing assumptions, life years gained outstrips life years lost by a ratio of over ten to one when comparing cycling without a helmet to not cycling at all. **

    For me personally, this comparison is important. I find a helmet gives discomfort on the jaw from the chin strap, to the point that it is at risk of distracting my attention from the road, potentially offsetting any safety benefit as well as making cycling unpleasant. So really the only two options for me are: cycle without a helmet, or not at all. And the first of these would appear to be far the better of the two in terms of life expectancy (even though, for those not bothered by the discomfort issue, cycling with a helmet would be even better).

    So, if you choose to wear a helmet, then by all means go ahead (though, whatever you do, don’t then take extra risks because you “feel safe”, as those risks could very easily offset any extra actual protection). But whatever you do, don’t lecture any other cyclists or would-be cyclists about helmets to the point that they become fearful and refrain from cycling entirely; that would do them a terrible disservice. Worse still, do not campaign for helmet wearing to be made mandatory, as happened in Australia, and cycling rates there dropped markedly. No, the headline message should be:

    ** Get on your bike! **

    (Incidentally, if you *do* want to put out a safety message for cyclists, it should be: obey the rules of the road; they’re there for good reason. I’m often disappointed at the number of cyclists who pass me while I’m waiting at a red light on my own bike. I recently came close to being knocked off my bike by another cyclist going through on red; thanks, mate! But really that’s a topic for another day.)

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +4 (from 4 votes)
  17. Ankur sharma  05/08/2013 at 04:09

    Independently of our age, skill level, or experience, we must always wear a protective helmet while riding our bikes, motorcycles, skating, even skiing. Children of all ages should also wear helmets while riding a sled or inner tube down a snowy slope. The reason is the same: in most sporting activities, our heads are always vulnerable to injury; bruises, skin abrasions and cuts, even broken bones will heal, while brain damage may last a lifetime.

    It could happen in a few seconds—we could fall and hit our head against a tree, post, the sidewalk, etc., and sustain an injury that could even be fatal in a few hours or days. A blood clot may slowly form (intradural or extradural hematoma) from a torn, bleeding vessel, increase pressure inside the skull, and if it goes untreated, cause unconsciousness and eventually death.

    How do helmets work? Properly designed helmets absorb much of the force of impact that would otherwise cause head injuries. Thick plastic foam inside the hard outer shell of a helmet cushions the blow; the helmet actually absorbs the energy that otherwise would reach our head.

    Each year, even minor bicycle accidents kill hundreds of people in the U.S. and cause brain damage and other injuries to more than half a million riders. Even with wide availability of inexpensive helmets and proper information on how and why to use them, it is estimated that only approximately half of over eighty million bike riders would wear them all the time. Many riders do not wear them at all … even when statistics show that helmets prevent brain injuries in about four out of six serious crashes.

    Bicycle shops and many department stores sell several models of affordable helmets. The Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Snell Memorial Foundation have offered safety guidelines for effective helmets. We should choose one with the right size and fit: it should fit snugly and not slide around our head, fit squarely on top, and cover the top of the forehead. Once in place, it should feel comfortable and not slide or tilt in any direction; the chinstrap should keep the helmet from moving around. The helmet should be smooth and round; many models are ventilated, lightweight, and fashionable in color. For children, helmets must fit them properly; avoid those that they “will grow into.”

    We must teach children by example and always wear our helmet when playing sports with potential for collisions and head injuries. Children are more likely to wear helmets if they like the way they look; cool-looking helmets are worn more often.

    Bicycle helmets do save lives and prevent injuries, but should not be worn while climbing trees or around playground equipment because they may get stuck and actually cause neck injuries and even strangle a child.

    Ski helmets are slowly becoming more popular now; they will prevent many injuries, even when they would not be able to absorb the high energy of trauma caused by high speeds on the slopes.

    Helmets’ integrity must be carefully examined after a crash and replace them when dented and when the protective lining is torn or disrupted. Chinstraps should also be replaced if they are torn, the buckle is broken, or they are weakened in any way. We should remember that if after an accident our helmet does not fit as it used to be, becoming somewhat loose, we may easily drop it and with it, something that may keep us from sustaining a devastating brain injury … even if we are involved in a minor accident.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  18. seamus  14/08/2013 at 08:05

    By all means do not wear a helmet, but don’t mistake dislike for lack of efficacy.
    http://www.crikey.com.au/2013/02/28/buckle-up-in-defence-of-the-bike-helmet/

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

Comments are closed.