10 April 2008

The Great Bike Helmet Hysteria - Part 2

The Great Bike Helmet Hysteria - Part 2
What a mammoth task. I don't think I realised what I was getting into. I have waded my way through scores of research studies and surfed around the net under I was blue in the face. All while trying to make heads or tails of this Bike Helmet Hysteria.

I don't know where to start regarding what I've found. I'd like to thank most everyone who commented on the first post. There were so many great links and sober, level-headed comments. It's a shame that the points of view of these sensible people are rarely heard in the debate.

A few things are certain, however. I no longer have to jump to conclusions after reading the facts behind the issue. Now it's small step to clear-cut conclusions.

Another certainty is that virtually every bike helmet advocacy group out there quote the same statistic like it was carved in stone. They repeat it endlessly, like a broken record. No advocates question it - it is merely The Truth.

The statistic in question is that "cycle helmets prevent 85% of head injuries and 88% of brain injuries". This 'fact' is the foundation on which all bike helmet advocacy and helmet law advocacy is based upon. The populations of entire cities and states have legislation in place based on this 'fact'. This statistic dictates the lives of millions of people. Some websites try to tone it down a bit by writing things like "up to 85%" or "around 85%", but the message is the same.

As I wrote in the first post, I was curious about where it came from. As some of the readers stated, it originates from a small study in Seattle back in 1987, romantically entitled: A case-control study of the effectiveness of bicycle safety helmets - Thompson, Rivara & Thompson. New England Journal of Medicine 1989, Vol 320 No 21 p1361-7.

I found a few invaluable websites on my travels. One of them is the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation - the BHRF from hereon in - thanks to the readers who recommended it.

It's basically a database of all helmet research and analysis. A group of scientists who don't give a toss whether or not you wear a helmet, but who prefer to know the facts on the subject. It is the most comprehensive website on the subject I have found. Leave your emotions at the door and use your brain. It's science.

Regarding the now infamous ”85%-88%” statistic, the BHRF makes it clear:
Those who have taken the trouble to analyse the paper in detail, however, have found it to be seriously flawed and its conclusions untenable.

What? Sorry? Untenable? But is The Truth! The BHRF also informs us that all studies since this infamous one have shown less or NO benefit from helmet usage. The guys who wrote that study should be in marketing, branding toxic waste as tasty and healthy.

They've done their job well. Nevermind that it was a flawed study with little merit on a scientific level! It's an impressive statistic. Just start quoting it and hope that nobody checks up on it. And nobody has, by the looks of it.

Read what the BHRF says about this statistic here:
- Why it is wrong to claim that cycle helmets prevent 85% of head injuries and 88% of brain injuries
- Misleading Claims about Helmets

This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding the science of bike helmet research. It's a big tip, but there is so much more.
- Are you more likely to be injured BECAUSE you're wearing a bike helmet? Strange but quite possibly true
- Are bike helmets designed to withstand impact and how are they tested? If you love Made in China trinkets, you'll love the story about helmet standards.
- And so much more.

Two good resources for learning more about the truth regarding bike helmets:
The Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation - The Font of All Scientific Knowledge regarding bike helmets.
The Case Against Bicycle Helmets and Legislation - from the leading cyclists' group CTC [Cyclists' Touring Group] in Yorkshire.

So, as I said, it is now far easier to come to sound conclusions on this issue. So here's a couple:
Bike helmets of Mass Distraction
But who, pray tell, is doing the distracting? And why? I'll get to that in an upcoming post.
It's a voluntary issue
It's shocking to me that people are advocating something AND legislating, based on half-truths and non-truths. A stunningly undemocratic undertaking.
The Greatest Threat
There's a world of studies and stats about how safe helmets are or aren't. But the statistics that show how bike helmet legislation kills off bike culture are just as shocking. More on that in a later post.

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