Since the start of lockdown in March 2020, the number of people cycling in the UK has risen significantly. By June 2020, it was reported that cycling had increased by as much as 200% on weekends and 100% on weekdays. Over the past year, cyclist numbers have remained high, unfortunately seeing with it an increase in the number of cycling accidents reported.
There are no laws mandating the compulsory use of helmets while cycling for either adults or children in the UK, despite the efforts of lobbyists and campaign groups. Injuries to the head following a sudden jolt or impact to the brain are known as Traumatic Brain Injuries (‘TBIs’) and can occur to cyclists if they suffer a collision or fall. Long-term symptoms of TBIs include memory loss, fatigue, personality and mood changes and other cognitive impairments. The symptoms of TBIs can last for several years or be lifelong, with substantial impact for sufferers and their families. The benefit of wearing helmets whilst cycling has been widely reported. Studies have shown that 19% of helmeted cyclists suffered severe TBIs compared to 48% of non-helmeted cyclists.
Traumatic Brain Injuries
The majority of TBIs resulting from cycling accidents involve a fall or collision where the cyclist is still in motion and travelling at speed, causing them to hit their head at a distorted angle, rather than at a straight on, 90-degree angle. Such impacts produce rotational forces in the brain, causing the brain to be shaken back and forth within the skull. These rotational forces subject the brain to twisting and shearing motions and cause the soft, jelly-like brain tissue to scrape against the hard, jagged, inner surfaces of the skull. Rotational forces in the brain account for the most severe types of TBIs.
There are many cycle helmets on the market, from more basic, conventional helmets, to newer models with varying technologies, including those specifically aimed at reducing rotational forces. However, standard methods of helmet testing currently in place do not take into account the impact of rotational forces on the brain. This is because standard testing methods only look at how well the head is protected from impacts occurring at straight on, 90-degree angles, which most often occur when cyclists suffer a collision or fall while stationary. TBIs arising from such falls and collisions are usually mild.
A recent research study undertaken by Imperial College London with collaborators in Sweden published on 10 May 2021 available here, has demonstrated a new method of cycle helmet testing, looking at head traumas occurring at oblique or distorted angles (non-right angles), using a detailed computational model of the brain to determine how well helmets protect heads from the impact of rotational forces, when cyclists fall or collide at speed.
The research team compared older, conventional cycle helmets, with those fitted with new technologies to see whether the newer helmets provided better protection, focusing on impacts on certain, isolated areas of the brain. The newer helmets which were tested included MIPS (‘Multi-directional Impact Protection’), SPIN (‘Shearing Pads Inside’), WaveCel (helmets fitted with a collapsible cellular material designed to be more effective than traditional foam) and airbag helmets.
The findings concluded that on the whole, the newer technologies significantly reduced rotational forces and brain strain, compared with older, conventional helmets, but that the effectiveness of the newer helmets depended on the type of technology used and the location of impact.
The study acknowledged that there are further improvements to be made in future testing, by for example, incorporating different impact locations of the brain in the tests and using whole body crash test dummies, to assess how movement in the rest of the body impacts the way cyclists fall or collide.
It is hoped that the new method of testing will lay the foundation for future testing which currently does not take into account rotational forces. Dr Mazdak Ghajari, one of the authors of the study concludes “our research could help to address this gap, inform customers, improve safety, and reduce the frequency and severity of TBIs from cycling.” It is also hoped that the results of the study and future studies will assist in improving the design of new helmet technologies to reduce TBIs in helmeted cyclists.
We can help
If you have suffered an injury from a cycling accident that wasn’t your fault you may be able to make a claim. Contact our personal injury team on 01522 561020 or email email@example.com