Reasons to Wear a Cycle Helmet

Cycling helmets can prevent serious head injuries. Sometimes the benefits are exaggerated, but, in some cases a good cycling helmet can make a significant reduction in the impact of a collision.

cycle helmets

Due to the perceived safety benefits of Cycling helmets, they have now been made compulsory in UCI professional cycling races. The decision to make helmets compulsory was taken after Fabio Casartelli died during a stage of the Tour de France. He crashed into a wall on an alpine descent; many doctors suggested he might have lived, if he had been wearing a helmet.

It is difficult to know how many lives would be saved from compulsory helmet wearing. It would probably be very small, because the number of cycling deaths resulting from head injuries is quite small. Also there is no guarantee that wearing a helmet would prevent all head injuries.

Studies Supporting the benefits of wearing a cycle helmet

1. Cochrane Review

A Cochrane review of five case-control studies found that helmets reduce the risk of head injury in a collision by 63-88% and injury to the upper and mid face by 65%. Thompson, Diane C; Rivara, Fred; Thompson, Robert (1999). “Helmets for preventing head and facial injuries in bicyclists”. In Rivara, Fred. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

2. Dorsch et al.

Dorsch et al. Accident Analysis and Prevention Vol 19:3 pp183-90, 1987. (pdf)

Predicts 90% saving in fatalities through use of hard-shell helmets. * not sure how this conclusion is reached

3. Department of Transport in London

The Transport Research Laboratory (for Department for Transport (DfT) looked at over 100 police forensic reports into cycling fatalities. They claim that between 10 and 16 per cent of those fatalities would have been avoided had the victim been wearing an “appropriate cycle helmet” – ie: a helmet that is in good condition, of good quality and fits properly. (Times link)

4. 10% of Cycle accidents – head related

A study of cycle accidents in English hospitals found 10 per cent had suffered “injuries of a type and to a part of the head that a cycle helmet may have mitigated or prevented”.

5. Head injuries

“Head Injuries in Pedal Cyclists: How Much Will Protection Help?” J Worrel, Injury No. 18, 1987

A study of 100 consecutive head injuries in cyclists admitted to the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth found that 70% of the cyclists’ heads hit the road first, and 17% hit a flat, yielding surface, like a car body panel. It is estimated 50% of impacts would have been surrounded by a helmet.

6. Head injuries in US.

A Rider-Based Study of Helmet Use and Effectiveness”, Wasserman et al American Journal of Public Health, Vol 78,

In the USA 1,000 deaths and 50,000 emergency room visits result from bicycle accidents. Head injuries account for about 85% of the deaths and two-thirds of bicycle related hospital admissions.

Can Cycle helmets cause neck injuries from ill-fitting straps?

Some have suggested that helmets can actually cause injury, though there is little evidence to back this up.

Do cycling helmets cause overheating?

Not really. A modern well designed helmet has excellent designed ventilation. The weight of the helmet is quite low. They are worn in all stages of the Tour de France, even when temperatures reach up to 40 degrees.

Importance of Correct Fitting

Not all helmets are equal. If you do use a helmet.

  1. Make sure it is the right size
  2. Make sure it is correctly fitted – how to fit a bike helmet


8 Responses to Reasons to Wear a Cycle Helmet

  1. Olivier August 14, 2009 at 5:05 pm #

    This is a question more than a comment. I cycle to work in Oxford through narrow hilly streets where cars are parked both sides. There isn’t enough room for both a cyclist and a car, and most drivers give the right of way to cyclists who ride uphill, but more rarely to cyclists who go downhill. Other drivers never give the right of way to cyclists, whatever the situation. Is there a British road rule for the right of way of cyclists versus drivers? What’s the best way to handle a driver who decides to force his way against a cyclist?
    Any feedback wellcome. Cheers,

  2. Andy November 12, 2007 at 10:30 pm #

    Indeed the probabltity of a head injury is small but IF it does happen THEN the probability that a helmet will be a of tremendous benefit is very high. I fell off at a very low speed (e.g. 5mph), landed on my head and then on my elbow which broke. I examined my helmet afterwards, and the paint and some of the plastic had scraped off. That would have been my scalp and skull had I not bothered….


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