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Debating the True Value of Helmets

Traumatic brain injuries are caused by significant contact between the head and a hard surface. This much is well known by most. That naturally leads to the assumption that one important way to prevent head injuries is to promote the use of helmets. Of course, that is exactly what many advocates are urging on a wide variety of fronts–from bicycle helmets and motorcycle helmets to better designed football helmets.

Yet it is a mistake to assume that all we need is more helmet use to get rid of the TBI problem. In fact, researchers are still toiling away to figure out exactly how helpful helmets are–the results may surprise you.

Bike Helmet Study
For example, recently researchers published a new article in the British Medical Journal that took a look at the effect of bicycle helmet laws. As most know, in recent years there has been significant political debate over whether lawmakers should force individuals to wear helmets for safety in different settings, i.e. while riding a bicycle or motorcycle. As it now stands, each state sets its own rules, resulting in a patchwork of rights and obligations depending on whether you live or ride.

What were the findings?

The researchers issued an editorial which explains the complexity of assessing the matter, both determining the effect of the helmet laws and analyzing the individual effect of wearing a helmet. To be clear, the researchers do not seem to suggest that not wearing a helmet is ever safer or more prudent than wearing one. However, they do have some misgivings about the scope of the helmet benefit for the individual and the merit of forced statewide requirements to do so.

As a Mind Hacks post on the editorial points out there are many “behavioral complexities” that factor into these issues. In fact the editorial argues that “the social and behavioral effects of wearing a helmet, or being required to wear one by law, can often outweigh the protective effects of having padding around your head.”

This might happen for two reasons. On one hand, travelers forced to wear a helmet by law have been shown to wear it incorrectly at higher rates. Sometimes nullifying the benefit. Second, “risks compensation” issues often play a role, influencing the actions of those wearing the helmet and those around them. In other words, those wearing helmets may engage in riskier behavior than they otherwise would. Similarly, those travelers in cars around those with helmets may actually act more carefully if they notice a cyclist without a helmet than with one.

It is difficult to truly grasp the scope of these behavioral changes, because they happen subconsciously. In other words, bikers do not know that they are acting riskier, they just do–the same goes for the unintentional conduct of those traveling around cyclists with and without helmets.

If you or a loved one is harmed in a bike accidents of any sort, please contact our attorneys to see how we can help.

See Other Blog Posts:

Brain Injuries & Hit and Run Accidents

Safety & Awareness to Prevent Illinois Motorcycle Accidents