The Leicester Mercury recently reported the sad death of a 24- year old cyclist who came off his bike in a city street and suffered serious head injuries. He was riding on the pavement and not even the road, though he probably thought he might be safer doing so. There were no other vehicles involved.
Headway, a leading charity for head injury sufferers say that they know how easy it can be to sustain a life-changing brain injury as a result of a cycling accident, as many Headway service users sustained their injuries as a result of cycling accidents. But an accident can happen to anyone at any time. Indeed, there was criticism of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge recently when their youngest son, Prince Louis, was photographed on a training bike without a helmet.
As personal injury solicitors, we know this as well. Our Head of Department, John Knight and another of our partners, Richard Teare, are experienced and passionate cyclists but equally passionate about bikes and road safety. John Knight is also a Trustee of the charity Headway Lincolnshire, and the father of a son who has suffered a traumatic brain injury on a pavement.
There is evidence that wearing a helmet DOES reduce injuries to the head and brain to cyclists who are involved in accidents and we at Ringrose Law, as solicitors who deal with the aftermath and often permanent consequences of head injuries, strongly support wearing protective headgear at all times when on a bike.
The most common cause of death and admissions to hospital from bicycle-related trauma is traumatic brain injury (TBI). About 75% of all bicycle-related head injuries are caused by single-bicycle accidents, i.e. accidents without any other vehicles involved. In most cases this involves falls or collisions with an obstacle. Despite studies and public awareness campaigns encouraging the use of cycle helmets, the prevalence of wearing cycle helmets remains relatively low in Britain.
Cycle helmets should always be fitted and worn correctly, be free of any damage, and marked with the current safety standard.
Headway goes further and believes that all cyclists should wear helmets, particularly vulnerable road users such as children and for this group, it should be compulsory.
So what of the evidence?
“You would never think about taking your laptop about without putting it in a case. Why would you not do the same for your own brain – the most precious computer you will ever own and for which there are no spare parts?”
Dr Andy Eynon, Consultant in Neurosciences Intensive Care, Wessex Neurological Centre
“The reality is that even a minor injury can have a major impact. Therefore, anything that can limit damage to the brain by lessening the risk of skull fracture or reducing the amount of energy absorbed by the brain upon impact can have a significant effect on a patient’s outcome. Cycle helmets achieve both of these objectives.”
Prof David J Sharp, IHR Research Professor & Consultant Neurologist, National Institute for Health Research
There are numerous peer-reviewed, published scientific studies supporting the fact that helmets save lives and prevent head injuries which in turn are supported by well-respected professional bodies including the British Medical Association, the Association of Paediatric Emergency Medicine and the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust
A 2019 study into the impact of cycle helmet use on severe traumatic brain injury and death in a national group of over 11,000 pedal cyclists, using data from the NHS England Trauma Audit and Research Network dataset, found that cycle helmet use was associated with a significant reduction in severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). 47.6% of patients who were not wearing a helmet sustained a severe TBI, compared to 19.1% of patients who were wearing a helmet (Dodds N, Johnson R, Walton B, et al, 2019).
A study from 2016 collected data from over 64,000 cyclists around the world and found substantial evidence that wearing a cycle helmet reduces risk of serious head injury by almost 70% and fatal head injury by 65%. This study also found that the risk of sustaining a general head injury is reduced by 51% and facial injury by 33%, when a helmet is used (Olivier, Creighton, 2016).
The study was led by the University of New South Wales in Australia, and published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
A different study found that facial injuries can also be reduced by potentially up to 65% A Cochrane review illustrates a protective effect from cycle helmets, reducing the risk of brain injury by up to 88% and injury to the upper and mid face by 65% (Helmets for preventing head and facial injuries in bicyclists, Thompson et al. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2000)
These are only a few examples, but the evidence seems clear. Helmets help reduce injury in cyclists
It is fair to say that there are some sceptics who argue that there should not be so much emphasis on helmet wearing, as this induces a false sense of security in bike riders and makes them take more risks than they otherwise would have done and thus, you still get more accidents and injuries.
We agree that on its own, merely wearing a cycle helmet will not solve the entire problem. We need to combine this with campaigns for better facilities for cyclists on the road, better quality road surfaces and fewer potholes, emphasising cyclist awareness from other -and bigger!- road users and of course educating cyclists themselves from childhood in safe cycling. Adults need to be role models. Use lights and hi-viz wear as well.
But it’s a start and an easy habit to get into; one that may save your life or prevent a catastrophic disability.
Here are some tips on protective headwear:
- Find a certified safe helmet that you like enough to wear regularly. Try different options until you find a style, size, model, and weight that works for you. Horse riders have a vast choice for their hats and there is no doubt that some are more fashionable than others, leading to great rivalry in headgear. Many have amazing “bling” on them, with glitter and crystals, but if that leads to riders, especially children, actually wanting to wear their hats and be seen in them, that’s all good.
- Consider a helmet with concussion-reducing technology, such as MIPs. They can be slightly more expensive, but so is lifetime care after a head injury. You can normally only get substantial care paid for if you can obtain compensation after an accident where you were not at fault and this is admitted by another party or can be proven to be so. This of course is where you will almost certainly need legal representation to guide you through a claim.
- If you are injured in accident and are not wearing a helmet, then if that injury could have been avoided or lessened had you been wearing one, then any compensation you may receive could be reduced because of this. You could be held to be “contributory negligent” which is a legal term which means that your injury is, or at least partially, your own fault for not wearing a helmet. This is important if it means you get less money towards desperately needed care and equipment.
- Make sure your headgear fits correctly. Horse riders have qualified hat fitters to do this for them. In many cases, shops will not sell a riding hat unless it is fitted by them. This is of course not so simple if you buy on -line, but there are on-line guides. Check whether the fit needs adjusting from time to time, or of course, as children grow. We recommend that helmets are not passed down to younger children, as they may not fit correctly.
- If your cycling helmet gets damaged, or you have a fall, or it gets dropped and MAY have damage, then you need to buy a new helmet. Some damage is not obvious, but you can take your helmet to be checked by specialist shops who sell them, or sometimes even return them to the manufacturer.
- Don’t leave your helmet -or other protective gear- in hot cars (like dogs). They might melt! Not immediately obvious, but the heat can soften and weaken the helmet and reduce its protection. Buy a coolbag and store them in that…..but not with any ice.
Cycling is a great way to get out and about in an environmentally friendly way and can be undertaken by all ages, alone or in groups. We want you to have fun and enjoy your bike rides, but we also want you to be SAFE.