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Three lessons for a better cycling future

"in 1988 the largest survey of cycling casualties ever undertaken concluded that helmets did not prevent injury; indeed, increased use correlated with increased risk of death"

Child Deaths from Helmet Use

According to a report in the York Dispatch (Pennsylvania) February 9, 1999, three year old Eugene Arnold was suffocated when his helmet caught in play equipment. He was found wedged into a small opening. Paramedics arrived too late to save him. This is not the first incident where a bicycle helmet has caused the death of a child. Six children in Sweden and one in Lumsden, Saskatchewan, Canada have been hanged by helmets when the straps got tangled on play structures in similar incidents. While the wearing of helmets may have prevented relatively inconsequential injuries to children, it has never categorically been shown that they have saved a child's life. There is now categoric proof that helmet use can cost children their lives.

Authorities and helmet boosters have been very quiet about the Swedish deaths since they were reported in the early nineties. The Swedish authorities blamed it on the buckle and had helmets redesigned to incorporate a buckle which releases under load. Unfortunately, this virtually ensures that the helmet will fly off in a collision.

American helmet crusader, Randy Swart of the Bike Helmet Safety Institute (BHSI), promptly blamed it on the play equipment, pointing out that the gap where the helmet got trapped varied 3% from measurements specified by the American standards body ASTM for play equipment. A US manufacturer has added a warning to helmet labels that a choking hazard could arise if the helmet is used other than for cycling. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) rushed out a press release recommending that parents ensure when children get off their bikes, they remove their helmets. This sounds like an echo of the auto air bag controversy, where consumers have to go to unnatural and extraordinary measures to protect themselves from another piece of "safety equipment". A farcical but serious situation now exists in jurisdictions with child helmet laws. Parents are now not only forced by such laws to insist that their children wear helmets when cycling, but also forced to insist that their children remove them so as to prevent their children getting killed!

For far too long, organizations with myopic zeal like the BHSI, Safe Kids, the WHO Helmet Initiative, and the Harborview Injury Prevention Research Center in Seattle have been promoting bicycle helmet use as a panacea. Helmet sceptics like ourselves for some time have been concerned over the design faults in helmets, the shortcomings of the helmet certification procedures, psuedo-scientific studies which produce helmet efficacy claims which have not been reproduced in large populations despite rapid increases in helmet use, and what has become a propaganda industry pushing helmets on all regardless of consequences. It was just a matter of time till a death would be laid at the door of a bicycle helmet in the US. Now that it's partly out in the open, let's hope this will signal an end the secretiveness over the many negative aspects of bicycle helmets and their use.

The OCBC bicycle helmet FAQ addresses questions about the limitations and shortcomings of modern bicycle helmets. The answers are based on currently available research, national standards literature, and other published sources.

From the web pages of the OCBC - Bicycle Helmets Kill Children    March 1999