A 2006 research study from the University of Bath in the United Kingdom shows that there may be some risks to cyclists riding with a helmet, which sounds counterintuitive.
Dr. Ian Walker gathered data using a bicycle modified with a computer and an ultrasonic sensor to measure the distance of 2,500 motor vehicles attempting to pass the bicycle on a road. Dr. Walker tested the distance of cars attempting to pass a cyclist wearing a helmet as opposed to cyclist not wearing a helmet. On average, cyclists pass a motorist wearing a helmet almost 4 inches closer on average than helmetless riders.
“This study shows that when drivers overtake a cyclist, the margin for error they leave is affected by the cyclist’s appearance,” said Dr. Walker, according to press release from the University of Bath. “By leaving the cyclist less room, drivers reduce the safety margin that cyclists need to deal with obstacles in the road, such as drain covers and potholes, as well as their margin for error in their own judgments. We know helmets are useful in low-speed falls, and so definitely good for children, but whether they offer any real protection to somebody struck by a car is extremely controversial. Either way, this study suggests wearing a helmet might make a collision more likely in the first place.”
Dr. Walker seems to suggest helmets may not provide the level of protection most people assume. Cyclists cannot control how much cushion room motorists provide them—but they can control whether or not they are protecting their head with a helmet in the event of a collision. If you are unfortunate enough to be in a bicycle accident involving a motor vehicle, my guess is that you would want to be wearing a helmet in that situation.
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Tip of the week: If your community does not have marked bike lanes on its roads, urge your legislators and community leaders to implement them. Clearly marked lanes will provide cyclists with extra cushion room from passing motorists.
Dudek Law Firm, APC—>San Diego bike accident lawyer