Most people who regularly ride bicycles agree that wearing a helmet provides additional safety and protection. However, the average European cyclist rarely – or never – wears one. Where is the mismatch? How can manufacturers and legislators come together to increase traffic safety for cyclists? And what role will helmets play in this?
Cycling is not only a healthy and safe form of exercise, it is also a viable alternative form of transportation that reduces carbon emissions and relieves road congestion. As European countries endeavour to increase cycling as an accepted form of transport amongst its citizens, certain factors must be considered in order to optimise safety efforts even further. At present, cyclists represent about 6% of all fatalities (averaged over many western countries).
The bicycle helmet is one of the key pieces of equipment that can increase safety when cycling. However, significant social, psychological, cultural and biological deterrents prevent many cyclists from wearing helmets. Only when all of these deterrents are studied together, can true progress be made. After all, optimising helmets only for one factor – such as physical comfort – does not address the other factors that can so strongly impact a cyclists’ decision to wear a helmet or not.
Furthermore, while the helmets currently available on the market are of good quality, they are certified using standards that were developed more than 30 years ago. Recent developments and understanding in biomechanics could be used to help helmet manufacturers further optimise helmet protective properties.
Another issue affecting the speed of progress in this area is the lack of systematic research on the topic, especially on a European level. There is currently no standard for reporting or collecting bicycle accident data, and no European-wide database into which this information can be collected. As scientists and experts in each country make progress in their own investigations, there is little opportunity to share their findings with the broader European community of scientists and researchers. As in many other research areas, the power of collaboration is undeniable: when researchers and scientists come together with a common goal, progress is swifter, scientific understanding is boosted, and results are more easily disseminated and put into practice.