Monday, November 16, 2009

Helmets and Protective Gear: Do they work?

It's hard to find research by experienced motorcycle accident researchers where the researchers had an open mind about helmets, and protection in general.
The helmet law debate in the US has muddied the water.  Bikers rights advocates have pointed out NHTSA-funded research which suffered from obvious bias, and there is a lot of propaganda on the issue, from both sides.
Up to now, we have avoided the issue by going with expert opinion on the matter as conventional wisdom, but we can do better.  Today we published a new page on the issue, summarizing the helmet data from three studies that are somewhat free of the current US controversy on the matter.   The papers look at helmet effectiveness in the Hurt study, whose late-70s data is from pre-helmet-law California before the current battle lines were joined.  The other two studies were the Thai and Maids studies.  In Thailand, about half the bikers wear helmets, and Maids, in Europe, only 8% of riders in accidents had no helmets.  All the Maids countries have helmet laws and the casualties were mostly moped and scooter riders.
As a counterpart, we also linked the current NHTSA crash data which actually claimed lower, but still substantial, benefits from helmet wearing.  In the light of the other studies, their claims do not look excessive.
We were also unable to find any linkage between the 92% helmet wearing European riders and increased neck spinal injury.  Total spinal injuries were only 5% compared with the 68% of riders who had reduced head injuries because they wore a helmet.
We did find that these studies were done by researchers who had previously done helmet research and were in favor of helmet use, but also point out that it is impossible to find any serious researchers who have not formed a pro-helmet position.

Nothing surprising here.

We also added Maids data on all the protective gear items in our Injury Mitigation section. Every protective item, helmet, eye protection,  jackets, leg protection, boots and gloves, plays a significant role in reducing injury. 

Bikers might exercise their freedom to wear a helmet and gear, and still resist big brother attempts to limit freedom. 


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3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, ET. Guido here. I just looked at the "new page" you posted with crash data. The problem with the way it's presented is that we have no way to analyze it without knowing total number of crashes & injuries. 6% vs 3% is impressive if there were 1000 accidents of each type, but not impressive if there were only 10 of each, for instance.
-We have this problem in medical research when an unimpressive single digit difference in "absolute risk" is stated as a more impressive two digit number as "relative risk reduction."
-"twice as many deaths" in unhelmeted riders is realy only a 3% difference from the helmeted deaths
-we also have to define head injury more explicitly. Is it a rider put into coma, or any scratch on the scalp? Is a neck injury any sore neck muscle or is it a fracture & paralysis?

November 21, 2009 3:32 PM  
Blogger ET said...

Guido, point taken. We added the raw numbers and the statistical accuracy numbers to the Thai/Hurt tables, added actual numbers to the percentages in the Maids data, and added an additional paragraph featuring a study done in Minnesota by a non-helmet wearing biker, who sent us the link.

November 23, 2009 1:31 PM  
Blogger ET said...

We've reworked the helmet page and added back into the helmeted injuries some of the injuries from the helmet-ejected sample. It doesn't affect the overall conclusion that helmets work, but it does reduce the effectiveness claimed by 20 percent or so.

We also got more information on neck injuries from the Thailand study and, like the Maids information, it looks like there is just no scope for claiming that neck injuries are increased by the wearing of helmets. In the Thailand study, head injuries were eliminated or reduced in over 50% of cases where they were used, whereas the total number of serious neck/cervical spine injuries was in single digits - less than one percent of all crashes.

December 4, 2009 9:01 AM  

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