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  1. #1
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    Helmets Harmful? I dunno...

    I was looking for some information on a new helmet to replace my aging one, when I came across this during a search on Yahoo!

    I skimmed this FAQ about bicycle helmets, and what I read was not what I expected. Basically, this FAQ by OCBC (see link below) claim that helmets do little to save lives and in fact may do more harm than good. The arguments they put out tend to fall into 3 categories: 1. The protection that a helmet gives only mitigates damage from a standing fall, rarely does it actually save a life, 2. Helmets are a poor substitute for teaching good skills and give a false sense of security, 3. Mandating helmets cause people to drop out of cycling, thus increasing disease from a more sedentary lifestyle.

    Here's the link for your viewing pleasure...

    ONTARIO COALITION for BETTER CYCLING
    Bicycle Helmet FAQ
    http://www.magma.ca/~ocbc/hfaq.html


    The only part that I sort of agree on is point #2. It's human nature to go for a quick fix... not unlike people who don't wear seatbelts or get careless because they think their airbags will save them. And I do agree that good skills and a sharp eye are better preventative measures against cycling death than relying on a helmet.

    The rest I don't buy. Especially their point dismissing helmets because they only mitigate minor damage rather than prevent death. Even if this is true, if a helmet can mean the difference between a concussion or a full blown fracture of my skull, I'll take the helmet. Sure, if I get hit by an 18-wheeler, my helmet won't mean much. But if it can save me from a disabling injury I can't recover from, even if it can't prevent certain death, I think it's worth it.

    As for the last point: saying that helmets turn otherwise active people into couch potatoes (I'm exaggerating for effect here ) seems dubious to me. Although I tend to object to mandatory helmet laws just on principle... however, mandatory organ donar cards for non-helmeted riders are a different matter

    So I put this FAQ and my humble opinions out here for others to comment. Yes, they do quote a lot of sources, but I am in no position to peer review their sources... being a researcher myself, I know how easy it is to find something out there that agrees with me, no matter out on the fringe the source might be.

    What do you think?

    -- R. Chan
    Last edited by rchan; 01-30-03 at 01:31 AM.

  2. #2
    Every lane is a bike lane Chris L's Avatar
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    Originally posted by rchan
    Basically, this FAQ by OCBC claim that helmets do little to save lives and in fact may do more harm than good.
    Maybe someone could tell me what it is about helmets that seems to upset people so much. I've always worn one and I intend to continue doing so. In fact, I would wear one even if there was a law actually banning helmets.

    Originally posted by rchan
    The arguments they put out tend to fall into 3 categories: 1. The protection that a helmet gives only mitigates damage from a standing fall, rarely does it actually save a life,
    I'm sorry, but point 1 is just a load of codswallop. Forget about this study or that study, I prefer to look at real world evidence. The real world evidence I have is that a helmet saved my skull in a 40km/h crash in October 2001. Not quite what I'd call a 'standing fall'.

    Now, if helmets are improperly used, they won't provide optimal protection. However, I don't see how this is different from any other invention.

    Originally posted by rchan
    2. Helmets are a poor substitute for teaching good skills and give a false sense of security,
    Granted, there is no substitute for teaching good skills, and helmets should not be used in that way. However, even the best skills in the world can't prevent accidents. I see a helmet's role as minimising the damage to the head in such accidents. I don't believe they give a false sense of security. It might give me the confidence to ride to the best of my ability, but I won't attempt something wearing a helmet that I wouldn't attempt without one. I, for one, don't want to end up with a broken leg.

    If people ride in a more reckless way simply because they are wearing a helmet, it's just a sign that they have other issues.

    Originally posted by rchan
    3. Mandating helmets cause people to drop out of cycling, thus increasing disease from a more sedentary lifestyle.
    Before we blame helmets for this one, let's look at some of the other factors that cause people to drop out of cycling shall we?

    1. The "cycling is dangerous" perception that is perpetuated by media organisations that give cycling accidents more coverage than they give accidents involving pedestrians or drivers. Every time a cyclist gets injured around here we have dozens of newspaper articles on the 'dangers of cycling' (just saw another this morning, and this without an incident to spark it, just a slow news day).

    2. The type of advertising that many bicycle manufacturers/retailers persist with that stereotypes cyclists into just two groups (see my Advertising thread for my full opinion on this). I sense that the majority of cyclists belong to neither of these groups.

    3. The general trend in society toward a more sedentary lifestyle. It's not only cycling that's suffering from this one. Take a look at a cross-section of other sports and see how many people are dropping out if you want more on this.

    4. The determination with which urban planners build second class facilities for cyclists and expect cyclists to use them. Many of these are just plain dangerous and I expect they frighten many people away from cycling.

    Originally posted by rchan

    What do you think?
    In conclusion, I think that there are many arguments both for and against helmet use. There are plenty of other FAQ's that would say helmets are wonderful, and plenty of others that say they are crap. I think you should make up your own mind. FWIW, I will continue to wear my helmet, regardless of what some guy on the www says about it. It's worked for me in the past and I see no reason to change.

    I also think the 'helmets' argument has been done to death, and that unless somebody has something new to offer it in this thread, this will be my last post on the matter.
    "I am never going to flirt with idleness again" - Roy Keane
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  3. #3
    Every lane is a bike lane Chris L's Avatar
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    Gee, I did go on a little, didn't I?
    "I am never going to flirt with idleness again" - Roy Keane
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  4. #4
    Bike Happy DanFromDetroit's Avatar
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    Thier conclusions sound like rationalization rather than the result of "research".

    In my view, a helmet is not a panacea, but it is very inexpensive insurance against injury from minor (and most common) cycling accidents some examples are: not unclipping quick enough, brain lapse on the railroad tracks, getting tangled in a dog leash, whacked in the head by a branch, or sliding on ice. Helmets are inexpensive, comfortable, and easy to use. I don't know why someone would choose not to wear one.

    I believe that the govenment should not mandate helmet use (or the use of gloves or shoes for that matter). If the equation works out differently for you, then by all means wear a silly-hat, or a cycling cap, or nothing at all if you prefer.

    Granted that I have not researched this intensively, my conclusions are based on my experience. Helmet use, for me, goes into the category of "gathering all available advantages to myself", which is a very practical approach on both roads and trails.

    regards
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  5. #5
    I am a lonely visitor RegularGuy's Avatar
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    It's as simple as this. I've gone down, hard, and cracked my helmet. Better my helmet than my head. Did it save my life? Maybe not, but I'm sure it saved me a lot of pain.

    I've had friends touch wheels and fall at speed. Their helmets broke, too. Did it save their lives? I can't say, but I'm sure it saved them from worse injuries.

    I have a friend who suffers from short term memory loss because he took fall on his head without helmet.

    This is all anecdotal, I know. It doesn't constitute research or proof, but it convinces me. The research and proof are out there, too. So, I wear a helmet. I encourage everyone I know to wear a helmet. My club requires riders to wear helmets. I think everyone who rides a bike should wear a helmet.

    I don't favor legislation mandating helmet-use, though. We have enough government interference in our lives. I do favor helmets however.

    I've looked at the OCBC article. It is a good piece of skeptical writing. It makes some interesting points but for the most part it strikes me as specious. Helmets may not prevent every injury or save every life, but to say that they are dangerous is silly.
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  6. #6
    bac
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    Originally posted by rchan
    The arguments they put out tend to fall into 3 categories: 1. The protection that a helmet gives only mitigates damage from a standing fall, rarely does it actually save a life, 2. Helmets are a poor substitute for teaching good skills and give a false sense of security, 3. Mandating helmets cause people to drop out of cycling, thus increasing disease from a more sedentary lifestyle.
    First of all, your research tells me that you are very interested in safety - and that's a good thing!

    In terms of the 3 arguments regarding why wearing a helmet is less safe than not using a helmet, I can only go with #3. Yup - fat kills more people than non-helmet usage. That is without question. However, if you only consider the regular biker (generally not overweight), then you've excluded that demographic, and also excluded argument #3.

    Having stated that, I still don't think that helmets should be required. That should be a personal choice.

  7. #7
    Senior Member RacerX's Avatar
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    Originally, I felt helmets should be choice but now I feel it is good that it is mandatory (for kids under 18).
    Around here I see many kids riding bikes and most of them have helmets and simply take it for granted that they should be wearing one. I also know that they see me or other older cyclists wearing helmets and it is just positive reinforcment.
    Besides that, helmets actually work. Sometimes you just fall- could be a silly spill or massive pileup. A HELMET CAN MEAN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LAUGHING ABOUT IT OR HAVING YOUR MOM CHANGE YOUR DIAPERS AND SPOON FEED YOU. Just that fact alone should make everyone want to wear a helmet. Even if it is a 1 in 10,000 chance that the helmet would save you-- why wouldn't you wear one? People have much worse odds winning the lottery yet they pay up for tickets every day.

    As for the article:
    It is really pathetic the lengths people will go to instead of simply saying, "I want freedom of choice to wear a helmet or not." I can at least respect honesty. The arguments as listed in that article border on ******** and I HATE crap shoveled and bow-tied in the guise of actual research.

  8. #8
    Senior Member stokell's Avatar
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    I live in a country where there is free medical care for all citizens. If you want to ride your bike without a hemet then sign a waiver saying you will pay for your own medical care. A simple fall without a hemet can disable you for life. I don't want to have to pay for your lack of common sense.

  9. #9
    bac
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    Originally posted by stokell
    I live in a country where there is free medical care for all citizens. If you want to ride your bike without a hemet then sign a waiver saying you will pay for your own medical care. A simple fall without a hemet can disable you for life. I don't want to have to pay for your lack of common sense.
    Unfortunately, I live in the land of personal injury lawyers.

  10. #10
    Center of the Universe ngateguy's Avatar
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    Originally posted by stokell
    I live in a country where there is free medical care for all citizens. If you want to ride your bike without a hemet then sign a waiver saying you will pay for your own medical care. A simple fall without a hemet can disable you for life. I don't want to have to pay for your lack of common sense.
    we don't have free medical care here of course unless you are incapacitated and can not work so if you can gaurentee that you can pay somebody to take care of you for your remaining years go ahead but our hospitals are full of people with head injuries and what not that cannot afford their care and then it does come out of our tax dollars
    Matthew 6

  11. #11
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    Originally posted by stokell
    I live in a country where there is free medical care for all citizens. If you want to ride your bike without a hemet then sign a waiver saying you will pay for your own medical care. A simple fall without a hemet can disable you for life. I don't want to have to pay for your lack of common sense.
    Great idea! While we are at it why don't we just ban cycling all together. May as well throw in skiing, hockey, or any other sport you can get injured playing. Imagine all the money our health care system will save!

    Perhaps we should make people who eat fast food sign a waiver saying they forfeit their medical coverage as well. Why stop there? Anyone who goes outside should have to pay an extra premium because of all the polluted air they breath.



    Seriously, let us not bring economics into the equation here. Once you do, there is no going back.

    PS - I wear a helmet every time I ride.

  12. #12
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    Originally posted by bac
    First of all, your research tells me that you are very interested in safety - and that's a good thing!
    Oh, I'm already sold on helmets. It's just that every few years, even when you don't think it can get better, some clever company comes out with something new. I was just looking for facts about better ventilated (sp?) helmets since spring and summer is just around the corner. I though the FAQ was about the latest technology, so you can imagine my confusion when I was first reading it.

    I'm also getting paranoid because statistically I am overdue for an accident. I won't give details for fear of jinxing myself, but let's just say I've been very very lucky so far.

    -- R. Chan

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    Originally posted by KrisA
    Perhaps we should make people who eat fast food sign a waiver saying they forfeit their medical coverage as well. Why stop there? Anyone who goes outside should have to pay an extra premium because of all the polluted air they breath.



    Seriously, let us not bring economics into the equation here. Once you do, there is no going back.

    PS - I wear a helmet every time I ride.
    I think a monster has been created.

    However I must point out, at least in the USA, insurance companies already charge a premium for higher risk behavior or conditions. I get charged more car insurance for just living in an urban area. Housing insurance in California has skyrocketed due to increased claims of mold damage (which I think is a load of bull). Life insurance companies will charge more if you fall into a group more likely to die in the short term (i.e. OLD). Medical insurance companies won't cover pre-existing conditions... if not drop you altogether if you dare to make a claim.

    I wouldn't be surprised if the 'waiver' is the next logical step for insurance companies to reduce claims.

    Hmmmm... I better remember to fill out my organ donor card. I already carry a driver's license and medical insurance card with me when I ride; gotta make sure they don't dump me if they don't know who I am. Just hope that the donor card doesn't discourage treatment

    -- R. Chan
    Last edited by rchan; 01-30-03 at 01:19 PM.

  14. #14
    NCAA - DUAL CHAMPIONS! a2psyklnut's Avatar
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    I've said this before, "Been hit 3 times, all 3 times crashing was unavoidable, all 3 times the drivers were at fault, all 3 times I had damage to my helmet, all 3 times I had no damage to my head, all 3 times I walked away, all 3 times I immediately went and bought another helmet!"

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  15. #15
    Gravity Is Yer Friend dirtbikedude's Avatar
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    One stat they forgot to mention is how, when speeding down a single track, a branch might go through the vents twisting your head around and braking your neck.


    I have hit my head many times with out and with a helmet. I much prefer to do it with a helmet now
    I always wear a helmet when I ride these days. It is not the fear of death that I wear one but the pain of a serious head injury that does not kill me.

    About the manditory helmet law. For the younger riders it is a good idea but the problem I see is not that they do not wear the helmet but they wear it improperly. Most of the young kids around here that wear helmets never buckle them. I always see them crashing and most of the time the helmet is off their head before they even hit the ground.

  16. #16
    1.64x10^6 posts Grendel's Avatar
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    Aw jeez... here we go again.

    I might as well go get some popcorn and a comfy chair -- another marathon helmet thread ensues as the same people say the same things they said in the last 50 or so helmet threads.

  17. #17
    Senior Member bikerider's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Grendel
    Aw jeez... here we go again.

    I might as well go get some popcorn and a comfy chair -- another marathon helmet thread ensues as the same people say the same things they said in the last 50 or so helmet threads.
    No, it will be shorter this time. I'm staying out of this one!

  18. #18
    Ride Nekkid! A.troll's Avatar
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    Originally posted by bikerider
    No, it will be shorter this time. I'm staying out of this one!
    Too late, boyfriend!

    So many men....so little time!

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    When I landed a jump and caught my wheel in a rut last month I then ran head-first into a tree. It did everything but knock me out. Cracked my Giro Eclipse and scrapped my face. But, I was riding again in about three minutes. If I had been without a helmet I feel sure they would have had to carry me out of the woods rather than my having another two hours of fun. Don't really care what this/these articles say. Experience doesn't allow me to ride without a helmet on or off road. In fact, I just bought three new Eclipse helmets for $60 on eBay. Saved $240. Just don't get the new colors. And now I have brain buckets for the future.

  20. #20
    Gravity Is Yer Friend dirtbikedude's Avatar
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    I might as well go get some popcorn and a comfy chair -- another marathon helmet thread ensues as the same people say the same things they said in the last 50 or so helmet threads.
    This is actualy the first helmet thread I have posted in so I for one am not repeating my self

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    Originally posted by Grendel
    Aw jeez... here we go again.

    I might as well go get some popcorn and a comfy chair -- another marathon helmet thread ensues as the same people say the same things they said in the last 50 or so helmet threads.
    Please humor me. Since I am new here, I have missed the last 50 or so helmet threads. So this is new to me.

  22. #22
    1.64x10^6 posts Grendel's Avatar
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    Originally posted by rchan
    Please humor me. Since I am new here, I have missed the last 50 or so helmet threads. So this is new to me.
    Try using the search function -- you'll find quite a lot of information (and opinion, and flaming disagreements) on the subject.

  23. #23
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    I work with head-injured folks and you've probably already guessed that I ALWAYS wear a helmet. The other issue that hasn't been addressed in the discussion is the PROPER fit of the helmet. Improper fit has, undoubtedly, has contributed to some of the variability in the research. The lack of consistency of this variable makes some of the studies less than "scientific." In my view, helmets only have value when they fit (and are worn) properly.

  24. #24
    Every lane is a bike lane Chris L's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Metal Cowgal
    I work with head-injured folks and you've probably already guessed that I ALWAYS wear a helmet. The other issue that hasn't been addressed in the discussion is the PROPER fit of the helmet. Improper fit has, undoubtedly, has contributed to some of the variability in the research. The lack of consistency of this variable makes some of the studies less than "scientific." In my view, helmets only have value when they fit (and are worn) properly.
    Yes, that's what I meant earlier when I suggested the studies weren't totally accurate because they didn't consider improper use of helmets. Of course, improper use also includes wearing the helmet on the handle-bars rather than on one's head as many teenagers do around here.

    Oh, dear! I've posted again. Alright, I'll start my 500 lines now.

    I must not respond to a foam & plastic post.
    I must not respond to a foam & plastic post.
    I must not...
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  25. #25
    Senior Member cyclezealot's Avatar
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    The once I fell directly upon a curve- direct blow to the left temple. I clearly recall the crack runnig about an inch long towards the skull upon the helmet..
    I had a headache with, imagine the headhache w/o.. No helmet, no ride- that is my policy.

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