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.