Although the idea of wearing a helmet to prevent injuries seems like common sense, head injury remains the most common cause of death and serious disability from bicycle crashes, according to the US Center for Disease Control. Around 70 percent of children ride bicycles, but it’s estimated that only 15 to 25 percent use bicycle helmets. Since helmets are the best protection to prevent injuries, researchers proved their effectiveness through impact and crush tests, as reported by Health Day.
Neurosurgeon Tobias Mattei and his research team at the Illinois Neurological Institute and Bradley University sought to provide scientific evidence for a public education campaign that would promote the use of bicycle helmets. Researchers filled human cadaver skulls with BBs and resin cement to provide a uniform weight of four pounds that’s equivalent to a human head. They then tested both the impact and compression injuries on the skull using an apparatus.
Researchers strapped children’s bicycle helmets to the skulls and suspended them upside down from heights ranging from six to 48 inches in order to test the effect of an impact injury. Unprotected skulls were tested in falls from six and nine-inch heights. They were released onto a flat steel impact anvil, and results revealed that wearing a helmet can reduce the force of a head impact during an accident occurring at 30 miles per hour to the force of a head impact occurring at 7 miles per hour. The test showed that wearing a helmet can reduce the acceleration experienced by the skull during an impact by 87 percent.
In order to test compression injuries, skulls with and without helmets were placed on their sides underneath a pneumatic cylinder, which was set at various loads of compression. Results showed that the helmeted skull was able to withstand a 470-pound force, as opposed to “disastrous consequences” that occurred with the unprotected skull.
The United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that all cyclists wear helmets, no matter where they ride. But helmet laws have recently sparked debates about how pushing helmet use makes people avoid riding bikes, which is beneficial for riders’ health and the environment. According to helmet-free advocates, helmets make “a basically safe activity seem really dangerous,” and bike falls that cause serious injuries to the head are rare.
Dr. Mattei points out how he and other surgeons can lessen long-term effects of traumatic brain injuries that may result from bicycle accidents. However, he reminds parents and children that “there is no doubt that the best strategy is still prevention, which in this case may be accomplished cheaply and simply by regular helmet use.”