Did you know that some cities do not require bicyclists to wear helmets? There is no state law mandating their use, either. According to the Washington Department of Transportation, the only cities and counties that do require helmets while bicycling is a rather short list. The most recent city to adopt a helmet law is Dupont, in 2008. The first were the cities located in King County, except for Seattle – until the law was adapted to include the major city just twelve years ago.
This is surprising, due to statistics showing that “helmet use has been estimated to reduce head injury risk by 85 percent,” according to the Bicycle Safety Helmet Institute, a volunteer advocacy group. Aside from concussions that can cause the brain to swell and/or fluid to collect leading to brain damage, the descriptions of what happens when a brain is impacted are quite gruesome. An extremely violent rotation of the head, where the brain remains stationary, can tear up blood vessels and nerves fueling this precious organ. Those same nerves and blood vessels are connected to the brain, which can also tug on delicate brain tissue. Imagine this all happening very quickly, in a split second, and one can imagine how detrimental the forces of such an impact can be. What I just described can certainly occur at city driving speeds. At highway speeds, there is a high likelihood that even the most well-built helmet won’t do a bit of good. Still, most cycling accidents occur at lower speeds, and modern helmets are built to decrease the severity of an impact as you can see in this graph.
So how do they work?
Otherwise known as a "brain bucket", helmets are more than just a method to wreck your hair-do. Much science and research has gone into their design, as well as some cutting-edge materials. A typical helmet is made up of a hard, outer shell and a softer liner inside. If impact occurs, the force of it will be spread over a broader area due to the hard shell absorbing and dispersing the energy. This means that your skull – which acts like nature’s helmet for your brain – is not the first thing to feel the impact, which means it is less likely to fracture. The inner liner is designed to squeeze inwards. That energy goes into the liner. Thus, less energy is transmitted to your head, according to the website Explain That Stuff! which also has great info on finding the right fit with a good helmet.
Modern helmets are made of space-age materials, as well as the stuff that you tote your picnic in. Things like fiberglass or lightweight carbon fiber, composite materials designed to absorb energy, compose the shell. Hard liners are often made of firm plastics like ABS or polycarbonate. Liners tend to be just shy of an inch thick, and are composed of two layers of foam: a hard and soft layer. The stiff layer permanently deforms to absorb very hard impacts, and the soft layer is meant to take on small bumps and bashes, which decreases the intensity of the headache you get to walk away with. Newer models are now incorporating plastics that shapeshift like Superman, where they are soft in normal use, making them more comfortable to wear, but harden instantly upon impact. However, most helmets use cheaper and simpler materials such as Styrofoam. All told, each of these materials is going to take the brunt of the impact so your skull doesn’t have to.
If these words don’t convince you to wear a helmet every time you get on your bike, here’s a video showing this crash test dummy getting dumped on its head. The bike isn’t even going that fast, and does not involve another moving object, such as a 4,000 lb. chuck of plastic and metal that is the average weight of a car. Be safe out there, and use common sense to protect yourself, even if no law mandates its use.
And if you were in an accident, whether you were wearing a helmet or not, it's important to get yourself on the road to recovery. It's not just about your health, but the financial well-being of you and your family. Call Bill Coats for a free consultation. There is no obligation to do more than that, but it is a critical step you can take if you've been injured.