MORE ON HELMET DESIGN FLAW In August 2003 we reported that two articles in the New Scientist had identified a serious flaw in helmet design. Now the May 13th 2004 edition of The Economist is reporting on the development of a new motorcycle helmet that confirms the existence of the flaw. The Vehicular Cyclist has complained for years about the same shortcomings in respect of bicycle helmet design (see Frequently Asked Questions 5 and 6). The Economist is reporting that Dr. Kenneth Phillips, British physician and inventor, has designed a motorcycle crash helmet that mimics the protective properties of the human head.
The doctor states that when a head hits the ground during a crash, it is subjected to two kinds of acceleration: linear and rotational. Only a linear acceleration is addressed by helmet design. Our FAQ notes that bicycle helmets are not designed to protect against the most deadly form of head injury and those are the ones that result from rotational acceleration. What is more disturbing is that the laws of physics suggest that a helmet is likely to increase the "spinning effect" on the head and the result may be more serious injuries in certain circumstances. Gennarelli et al in 1972 carried out tests on squirrel monkeys. They showed that rotational accelerations at much lower levels than linear accelerations resulted in more severe injuries. In some cases injury occurred when a linear acceleration at the same level resulted in no injury.
Dr Phillips, who apparently has first hand experience in treating head injuries, claims he looked to the head itself for inspiration for an improved helmet. The scalp, he observed, provides the brain with protection against rotational forces because it is elastic, compressible and moves around the skull without friction. So when a head hits a surface, the scalp absorbs some of the rotational part of the impact by moving across the skull. As a result, he says, less energy is transferred to the delicate tissues of the brain.
The doctor has designed a helmet with an outer shell that moves independently of the inner cushion. Slow-motion video footage taken during
crash tests at Britain's Transport Research Laboratory, in Berkshire,
shows that the outer shell does indeed move freely around the inner
one, and the head is kept steady. He believes the cost of manufacturing his helmet should not be much more than current helmets.
It looks like the helmet establishment however doesn't want any suggestion that its current products don't do a satisfactory job as Dr. Phillips was unable to get the interest of any existing manufacturer. Having drawn a blank, he has started his own company Phillips Helmets.
FACILITIES AND HELMET MYTHS TAKE ANOTHER BEATING This month a couple of incidents showed that riding in separate cycling facilities is no guarantee of safety and in one of the incidents, a helmet didn't "save-a-cyclist-life" either. On September 24th, Tim Aubin, an experienced cyclist and member of the Ottawa Bicycle Club, was rear-ended by a car while riding legally in the centre of a 2m (6'8") bike lane. Tim suffered serious injuries including two broken ribs and a broken ankle. Two weeks later, on Friday October 8th, a male cyclist was killed in a collision with another cyclist in Littleton, Colorado. According to a report in the Denver Post, the cyclist not only was riding on a supposedly "safe" bike path but was also wearing a helmet another alleged "safety" device. For more on the hazards of bike facilities see article and Alan Wachtel's research
INJURED UK CYCLIST AWARDED £5 MILLION (CAD$12M) after an insurance company dropped an attempt to hold him negligent for riding bareheaded according to a report by the BBC. An earlier report in cyclingnews.com had said that Royal Sun Alliance, an insurance company had abandoned its claim for contributory negligence against cyclist Richard Harrison who suffered severe brain damage in the collision on the A695 in Hexham, Northumberland, in May 1999. The company's claim was based on the cyclist not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash. His solicitor has stated that insurers were trying to use helmets as an excuse to reduce damages to cyclists and would continue to do so, that meant cyclists' representatives would have to be vigilant in ensuring they did not succeed. According to cyclingnews.com, this is third case of its kind in the UK where insurers have used the negligence argument and the third time the argument has been dropped and the case settled out of court.
DEFEAT FOR SPONSOR OF MHL In Ontario's provincial election October 2, 2003, member of the Ontario Legislature and cabinet minister Dianne Cunningham suffered a resounding seven thousand vote defeat in her bid for re-election. Cunningham was the author of a private member's bill that led to Ontario's mandatory bicycle helmet legislation. Although she was a member of the opposition Conservative Party, the bill was passed while the socialist New Democratic Party held power. Introduced in the early 1990's, it was approved by the legislature in 1994 for implementation in October 1995. It applied to all cyclists. Cunningham was subsequently humiliated however by her own party when it won the 1995 election and immediately exempted adult cyclists in response to a public campaign run by the Ontario Coalition for Better Cycling.Cunningham knew very little about cycling or cycling accidents and their causes but despite that got involved after her son suffered a debilitating head injury while a teenage passenger in a car. It was alleged alcohol was involved. She was known to be extremely dismissive towards cyclists who opposed her. When defeated on facts, she wasn't above using emotional manipulation to gather support. In one public hearing she arranged to have a head injured young person in a wheelchair attend. Apparently, the young man when a toddler had ridden out of a driveway straight into the path of a car.
No tears are shed here for Ms. Cunningham's defeat.
ONTARIO'S NEW LEADER A CYCLE COMMUTER Dalton McGuinty, Ontario's newly elected Premier was a regular cycle commuter to his constituency office in the 1990's before he became leader of the province's Liberal Party. It's not known how much cycling the Premier does now, but back then he was a notable supporter of the Ontario Coalition for Better Cycling's opposition to bicycle helmet legislation. Let's hope the new premier will remember the philosophy he espoused at the time - prevent cyclist injuries by preventing accidents through education of cyclists and drivers alike - and bring his views to bear on the Transportation policy of his new government.
CYCLEHELMETS.ORG LAUNCHED cyclehelmets.org is the website of an international coalition of people with a special interest in cycling and cycle helmets. The coalition includes doctors, cycling safety experts, statisticians and people with professional involvement in helmet design and performance.
cyclehelmets.org joins the growing list of credible bodies expressing concern about the exaggerated value of bicycle helmets and the negative effect it has on cycling and on health in general.
BICYCLE HELMET STANDARDS HAVE A DESIGN FLAW that could leave cyclists vulnerable to serious head injuries, say researchers in Belgium. An August 9th article in New Scientist, the leading UK science and technology journal, criticizes current helmet standards for failing to recognize rotational forces, the major factor in brain injuries. Bart Depreitere at the biomechanics lab of the University Hospital Gasthuisberg Leuven is quoted as saying that while the standards will help to protect against a skull fracture, research shows that many of the more serious head injuries, such as contusions and haemorrhages, were the result of rotational acceleration in which the head twists. "It is certainly wrong that there's nothing in the standards about rotational acceleration" he says.
This report supports our long held view that while helmets may offer some protection against lesser injuries such as lacerations and skull fractures, they haven't been shown to reduce disabling brain injuries and deaths.
An earlier article in the New Scientist drew attention to similar shortcomings of current helmet design.
CANADIAN HELMET LAW STATS A SURPRISE to Alberta helmet promoters but not to us. A report in the Calgary Sun on July 12, 2003 says new stats suggest that cyclist head injury rates have increased since the introduction of Alberta's child helmet law in May 2002. In June 2001 we reported on the unrealistic expectations being set by Alberta physicians that were behind a campaign for helmet legislation. At the moment it is not clear what impact data reporting changes referred to in the report had on the rate calculations. We will try to find out.
NO HELMET EFFECT ON NEW ZEALAND'S CYCLIST FATALITIES an analysis of road traffic fatality data for New Zealand since 1976 revealed no indication that the increased use of bicycle helmets or bicycle helmet legislation has had an effect on cyclist fatality trends. If anything it shows cyclists lagging behind pedestrians, the other vulnerable road user. The results replicate those for Canada and the United States.
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