Originally published at tinyfixbikegang.com on 3/14/13.
Have you ever gotten into an argument with someone who insists there is no benefit to wearing a helmet? Besides the obvious “I get too sweaty,” or “I don’t feel like carrying it around,” I’ve heard people claim, “I know how to stop in time,” or “I never crash,” or my favorite, “helmets don’t really protect you from a serious crash.” Interesting thoughts. I don’t particularly enjoy arguing, especially without all the facts, so I decided to look up some of the research. My initial intent was to write an article about how to win the annoying helmet debate with hard scientific data. When I got into it, I realized that there are a lot of articles, but also some obvious controversy.
Part of the problem is that this is a difficult topic to study prospectively. When you want to study the effect of a drug, you take 2 groups, give one the real drug, one the fake drug (placebo), and follow them over time, looking at your chosen outcomes (blood pressure, stroke, mood, whatever). With helmets, it’s not feasible to give one group of people a helmet, another group a cute hat, and then wait around for them to crash. For this reason, many of the studies take the people who have already crashed, and look backwards to see whether they were wearing a helmet, and then compare them to others who weren’t. One of the problems with this is in the selection of the subjects. For example, if you’re working in a hospital trying to recruit subjects from the emergency department, you’re not going to see the people who did great and walked off the scene of the accident, you’re only going to see the ones who needed to come to the hospital. So, what if the people who wore helmets mostly did OK and just went home, but the ones that turned up in the hospital (and consented to be in your study) were only the ones in the most serious accidents? That’s just an example of what these scientists are arguing about in these articles. Continue reading