19 February 2011

Australian Helmet Science - For Motorists

helmet for motorists head protection for motorists helmet for motorists

Since posting about mass-produced motoring helmets and later Protective Helmet-ish headbands for motorists I was curious to learn more about the latter, produced at the University of Adelaide.

It's taken a while but I finally recieved the study done in 2000 at the Road Accident Research Unit at the U of Adelaide, called CR 193: The development of a protective headband for car occupants (Andersen, White, McLean 2000).

A chap at Road Safety Policy, Department of Infrastructure & Transport in Australia was kind enough to send a link to the Australian Government website wherein the study is presented.

I don't think cyclists should be bullied with helmet promotion and threatened with legislation when there exists a very real and present danger to car occupants. I think that the car lobby as well as the general population should be presented with more data and facts about the dangers of driving.

It's only fair and logical.

From the Australian report we can read about the background for the study:

"Car crashes remain a significant source of head injury in the community. Car occupants have an annual hospital admission rate of around 90 per 100,000 population. Of drivers who are admitted to hospital, the most serious injury is usually to the head (O'Conner and Trembath, 1994).

In a previous study, McLean et al. (1997) estimated the benefits that are likely to accrue to Australia from the use of padding of the upper interior of the passenger compartment. This study specifically examined the effects of the ammendment to the United States Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 201 (FMVSS 201) in which passenger cars have to pass head impact tests with the upper interior. That report estimated the total annual reduction in harm to the Australian community to be around $123 million.

But more impressive were the estimates of introducing protective headwear for car occupants. The authors of the report estimated that the annual reduction in harm would be in the order of $380 million. The benefit of padding the head is that the head is protected from strikes with unpadded automotive components, exterior objects and in vehicles that predate any eventual introduction of padded interiors."

These are Australian numbers so the numbers for annual reduction in harm would be even higher in the EU or US.

The tests were a success, which is great news for drivers and car occupants:

"The results from Phase 3 indicate that a headband can greatly reduce the severity of an impact to the head. HIC was reduced by 25 percent [...] when compared with an impact with no headband."

The RARU headband prototype covers 44% of impact points usually suffered by car occupants. You can see on the photos at top that the protective area was actually extended when the prototype was designed so this 44% must be a bit higher.

The researchers go on to recommend further work on the subject:

"The results from Phase 3 indicate that a headband can greatly reduce the severity of an impact to the head. HIC was reduced by 25 percent [...] with the use of 25 mm of BB-38 polyurethane, and 67 percent with the honeycomb cardboard prototype, when compared with an impact with no headband."

"We recommend that further investigation is made into materials of a honeycomb structure to find a material of the correct crushing strength and durability. We also recommend that prototypes be developed further to be included in a testing program that would include other vehicle structures tested over a range of velocities."

It gets extremely difficult to ignore the bull when you're looking at this kind of science.

If we're serious, as societies, about really saving lives, these headbands should be promoted on all levels. There are two positive effects: One is that there will be fewer head injuries among car occupants. The other is that we would be informing people of the danger of driving and thereby branding driving as dangerous which will only serve the cause of encouraging people to consider safer transport options like... oh I don't know... cycling?

Take the Poll:

Here's a link to the Australian Government website about the motorist headbands.
Here's the study as a .pdf: The Development of a Protective Headband for Car Occupants


Sue 'sans' helmet said...

this country is so depressing with the amount of pointless surveys that are conducted - what a shame the australian approach to cycling-helmet-science in the late 80s hadn't been as pragmatic as it obviously was for motoring-helmet-science in the late 90s

...anyway back to bicycle helmets, i'm off to the district court next monday to appeal my criminal conviction for the crime of 'rider not wear helmet on a bicycle'! - wish me luck!!!

Scottish Cyclist said...

"I think that the car lobby as well as the general population should be presented with more data and facts about the dangers of driving."

I agree whole heartedly...

Anonymous said...

Best of luck, Sue! We'll be thinking of you, fighting the good fight. Val

BG said...

Funny thing about perceptions: I cycle every day, wearing a helmet. I only drive a car occasionally (once a month, or sometimes less). When I get in a car and start moving, I immediately feel like I ought to have a helmet on. I also feel much less safe and confident, in general, than I do on a bike. None of this has anything to do with statistics.

My point: the perception of safety depends mostly on what you're accustomed to. All those people who find cycling scary and unsafe probably felt the same way about driving cars when they first started, and would feel the same way now if they weren't accustomed to doing it so often. I'm actually not sure that the statistics will do much to change people's minds; even if we succeeded in mandating helmet use for motorists, if those motorists didn't start using bikes regularly, they'd still think biking was more dangerous, because less familiar.

So, I think it's better to concentrate on convenience -- if you make cars a hassle compared to bikes, people definitely will switch to bikes. And once they've used a bike daily for a week or so, they're generally just fine with it.

But in any case, go Sue! Although I wear a helmet (again, personal experience determines my choice: I've fallen off my bike and hit my head before, and I like the experience better with a helmet than without), I certainly don't think it should be mandatory.

kfg said...

Go get 'em, Sue! I'm afraid I can't hold out much hope for your luck, but that has to do with the nature of law, not the nature of your position. Keep your head up and your mouth open (but don't swallow too many bugs).

"That report estimated the total annual reduction in harm to the Australian community to be around $123 million."

Am I the only one who has severe reservations with this point of view?

gregory s. adelberg said...

Cars are very dangerous, a fact I believe is understood by most but still disregarded. How many times have you heard the fact that you are more likely to die on the way to the airport then the on the airplane? It doesn't matter. People will stay take a car or over a train or bike unless its more convenient or unavailable.

People don't believe what they can not see.

Fact is, helmet laws will never fly and are the incorrect battle to choose. Reducing speed limits, marketing the bike as "normal" and "cool", and provided and promoting more infrastructure is the way to go. Just as you mention in your wonderful posts daily :)

While I do agree with the facts, fighting cars with ideas such as helmet mandates is the fight the car industry wants cyclists to take; you come off looking like a "green" freak or a "cyclist" instead of someone who happens to be riding a bike and play right into their hands.

Anonymous said...

Another snide attack on those who wear helmets...where will this end?

Look, some of us live in societies that do not offer cradle to the grave security, no matter how idiotic you behave. And MOST of us ride in conditions that you never even see in Denmark. We need all the protection we can get when riding a bike. And we can't expect society to pick up our medical bills.

Real world cyclist

Mikael said...

interesting how this post can be percieved as an attack on people who cycle with helmets.

if wearing a helmet keeps somebody on a bike, great.

if not wearing a helmet keeps somebody on a bike, great.

this 'cradle to grave' argument is getting a bit thin. everywhere i've travelled this year - including countries without cradle to grave care - helmets are not an issue and are rare.

riding in paris was much like riding in nyc. moscow was worse than both. budapest was a little bit better, as was pardubice.

the point is that this has nothing to do with denmark. i've cycled all over the world for more than 20 years. helmets are unique to north america and other anglo-saxon countries. that's just a fact, not a statement or judgement.

but to get back to the point... this isn't an attack, as you claim.

are you not interested in saving motorists' lives? if not, why not? they are citizens, too.

dyrlægen said...

go sue go sue go sue

I think you should wear an inflatable sumo suit in court just in case a bookcase falls on you. And diving boots in case of tornado and flash flood. and a motorcycle helmet in case the ceiling falls in. and welding gloves in case you burn your hand on your coffee cup. then suggest it would be safer if all the court attendants were also safely attired like yourself. i am sure a quick look through the national accident statistics would back up your counter-case. once everyone is safely dressed, a larger courthouse will be required to safely accommodate you all. obviously the builders will require further hazard assessment and protection. zorbs, perhaps.

I think in that case, a successful prosecution may take a while, but no-one will get hurt.


l' homme au velo said...

In our Country Ireland Car Drivers are always Crashing and getting themselves Killed in Really terrible Accidents Virtually every Day. Many of these Accidents are on Straight Roads in Pefectly Dry Conditions ,mostly in the Early Hours. with Cars Driving into Walls and Poles. Very Few Cycling Fatalities or Accidents and those that do Happen are when Lorries and Cars Crash into Cyclists.

In Spite of Cars having Air Bags People are still being Killed,so I think Car Drivers should use Helmets to Protect their Heads.

The Majority of Cyclists in Ireland do not Wear Plastic Hats and get along fine without them

The Best of Luck to Sue in OZZ, I Hope the Cycling organisations are Rallying to Her Cause. If indeed it is a cause, She just wants to be left alone and get on with Life Travelling the Highways and Byways not Bothering anybody with the Wind in Her Hair.

Melbourne Cyclist said...

Good luck Sue!!!

Remember to mention whichever stat it was that said that motorists are more likely to drive carefully around non-helmetted cyclists because the motorists perceive their risk of hurting the cyclist as higher that way!

Mikael, or anyone else, d'you have suggestions for where I could find Australian data that breaks down fatalities and injuries by vehicle involved (car, truck, bike, foot), and type of injury (head, limb, core/internal, preferably with some good fidelity there)? I'd love to be able to present stats that say x% of cycling injuries involved head injuries; of these y% were solo crashes, z% involved motor traffic, etc; a% of cycling fatalities did not involve any head trauma, etc; b% of motoring accidents involved head injuries; and so on - a full breakdown of the lot. If nothing else, it would be interesting.

kfg said...

MC: You can start with this hot off the digital presses study by the University of Flinders for the Australian Institute of Health & Welfare, covering injury deaths in 2004-05. More than 100 pages of information so you can compare injury fatality rates against each other:


Matt said...

They're are really smart in Adelaide when it comes to bicycles. To be amazed at just how dumb the Adelaideans are about bicycle culture (despite being a flat city with great weather) see the recent series of articles from this last week (and the craziest, dumbest comments you've ever seen).

They're yokels down in Hicksville, I tell ya.

Mikael, It's worthy of a post from you. What do you think? Do all you can to embarrass them. Adelaide was a city I used to safely ride my bike to school in. No kids do that anymore.

Copy this to your browser

and the related stories on the page has about 5 more stories from this week alone. There's 1000's of unenlightened comments in there.

spiderleggreen said...

I like the comment in the Aussie article comments, that instead of a tax on bikes, they should just put a tax on lycra products. Very funny!

Motorist are citizens(aka. people) too!

Just a cyclist said...

I voted no for society promotion for motorist helmets in the poll.
No, I don't like silly constraints forced on ordinary citizens that complicate their lives. For the same reason I also dislike road tolls for cars even though I'm - just like copenhagenize - not exactly pleased with the motor-centered society.

In the light of possible cyclist helmet legislations, yes, it is indeed important to point out the logical need for protective headgear for motorists.

As a sidenote, I'd like to emphasize that just as the responsibility for the safety of "soft" road-users should not be degraded into striped styrofoam headwear, it should neither be completely put on the motor-traffic: "soft" and "hard" road-users still have to anticipate and respect each other and act responsibly. Not that this is meant as a vehicular cycling manifesto. BTW, I like the dutch way of always putting the responsibility on the car in any accident with "soft road-users", after all its the car that poses the danger, not the bike.

Ed said...

Australia is governed by silly people. They will never look at this issue rationally and realise that bicycle helmets do not make cycling safer but actively discourage cycling.

If you do live in Australia, there is an answer though. David Thorne says, "A lot of people choose not to ride a bicycle because they are too embarrassed to wear a crash helmet but by painting the helmet light brown, it can easily be disguised as a large mushroom."



mikey2gorgeous said...

Go Sue - all the best - perhaps you should present the judge with a helmet for him to wear while he's a pedestrian.
After all, if it saves just one life... ;)

Kevin said...

Yeah!! PLEASE vote to get the dorky car drivers to wear dorky car driver helmets!! I'd friggin' fall off my bike, laughing at them- like they don't have enough safety options for a breed of no-brain-couldn't-give-a-shit-about-anyone-but-myself-and-my-cell-phone-and-my-latte-steel-coffin-drivin'-misfitz.

tensimon said...

IMO: the motoring helmet thing is brilliant satire, and makes a very serious and important point about how we see driving as safe when really it is anything but. I'm almost tempted to buy a full-face helmet to wear when driving, just to make the point (I said 'almost').

But campaigning for motoring helmets is a distraction from the thing we need to focus on: getting more people out using their bikes in everyday life. People fear cycling because it isnt 'normal' - so let's make it normal!

Motoring helmets would also make drivers (even) less attentive thru risk compensation. My preference for increasing safety for everybody has to be properly-enforced speed limits, preferably mechanical limiters which would take away even the temptation to drive fast.

Low enough speed limits also level the playing field - why take the car when it only goes as fast as a bicycle?

People (drivers) will whine about how they (or the economy) NEEDS the mobility that fast-traveling cars offer, but my response is that the economy and their needs will realign to slow cars just like they aligned to fast cars.

kfg said...

"I'm almost tempted to buy a full-face helmet to wear when driving, just to make the point . . ."

I've actually done that. What I found interesting is how many people opined that they'd like to do that too, but didn't have the nerve because they'd feel too dorky.

" . . .the economy and their needs will realign to slow cars just like they aligned to fast cars."

Like humanity spread to all corners of the globe on his own two feet and clinging to logs and shit? Yeah, right. Tell me another one.

RJ said...

That's so awesome.