So I emailed the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute

Saturday, November 11, 2006 at 11:53 am 1 comment

A couple days ago, I decided that if there’s even the slightest notion in my head that I have questions regarding my injury, I should ask them. So, I did ask the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute what they thought about the helmet I was wearing, and other info. I really liked what the man had to say in his response email. So much, that I figured it’d be useful to post it up here. (It’s with his permission)

” At 11/8/2006, you wrote:
I am curious if my helmet should in most cases have protected me from a brain injury, and if so, what does that mean?

First, the statistics show that helmets reduce brain injury by 88%. We all expect to be in that 88%, but the reverse stat is that helmets do not prevent brain injury in 12% of the crashes.

Our current helmets attempt to prevent traumatic brain injury, including yours of course. But unless we are willing as cyclists to wear a helmet that is much thicker and much heavier than those designed to meet the standard, we are not going to get significantly better protection. In fact, cyclists do not buy helmets that make their heads look like mushrooms. (Bell proved that with one of their models ten years ago.) So there are compromises necessary to produce a marketable product.

The standards testing is calibrated for the force that normally injures or kills the rider: the fall to the pavement. Forward speed, although sometimes a contributing factor, is less important than the vertical closing speed with the road. That is governed in most cases by gravity and the distance above the road when the fall begins. I don’t know whether in your case the collision with the truck added significantly to that distance or not, but virtually all fatal cycling crashes do involve motor vehicles, and that is when the impacts fall outside the range that a bike helmet is designed to protect against. It is even possible to induce concussion from a severe bodily impact, as opposed to a direct blow to the brain, although in your case I would assume your head hit hard and the helmet should show a lot of damage.

The Specialized S1 is a good helmet. It meets not only the CPSC standard but is certified to the Snell B-90 standard, slightly more stringent in coverage. Snell periodically buys regular production models on the market and tests to make sure nothing has changed and the helmets still meet their standard. I can’t say for sure from your description, but it is likely that the helmet performed well. It is also likely that you would have died without it.

Was there a more protective helmet that you could have been wearing? The answer to that is “yes” if you are willing to wear a motorcycle helmet, but “maybe” if you are sticking with bike helmets. The models that Consumer Reports ranks highest might outperform the one you were wearing. But nobody can tell you whether or not one of those would have prevented your injury, shortened your coma or whatever. The science of helmets and head injury is just not that exact. You are alive and able to compose coherent emails, so most doctors would rate that a good outcome.

There are discussion going on now at every meeting of the ASTM standards committee about the level of protection and how to increase it. Although many have tried to develop new materials, nobody has a magic formula, and you can’t repeal the laws of physics, so a one inch thick helmet of whatever construction has to stop you in one inch, and the rate of acceleration/deceleration can’t be very much less unless you increase the thickness of the helmet.

I assume you are going to ride again when your doctors tell you it’s ok. Most of us do that. Your doctors probably have told you that the second concussion can be induced at much lower force levels than the first. For some period of time your brain is like that of a fighter with a “glass jaw” or a quarterback who has been hit too hard too many times. Since test data is scarce, we usually point people to the Consumer Reports articles as a good place to look for a helmet that protects better. (We have some of those articles up at http://www.helmets.org/cu.htm ) You will find that Specialized always has at least one model in the highest rating category. The best advice for you at this point is to avoid any of the hyper-vented helmets with hard foam between those big vents, and go for something with modest vents and lots of foam. You don’t want Lance’s helmet, and you may find thicker, less dense foam in the Wal-Mart models. I wish we had more testing to confirm that, but we don’t. We have a page up on that if you have not seen it at http://www.helmets.org/helm4inj.htm

I wish you a full recovery.”

So there you have it. I posted it here because he says some smart things, and others could benefit from knowing it. Hope it was helpful!

-Doug

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Entry filed under: Brain Injury, cycling.

Metric Riding, chatting, flatting, lectured, etc… (a long one)

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