Cycle helmet saves the life of Olympic medallist

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Cycle helmet saves the life of Olympic medallist

29th July 2010

The importance of wearing a helmet whilst cycling has again been highlighted by news that doctors treating the Olympic medallist and TV adventurer, James Cracknell - who was thrown from his bike after being hit from behind by a lorry last week in the United States - have said his life was almost certainly saved by the helmet he was wearing at the time.

Mr Cracknell, 38, known for his passion towards bike safety had just bought a new 'Alpina' helmet that sits lower on the back of the head and took the blow he received far more effectively than a normal helmet. Sustaining what is known as a contrecoup injury to the frontal lobe, doctors say the helmet - which was shorn in two with the impact of his head hitting the tarmac - saved his life and that it was a miracle he didn't fracture his spine or any other bones.

Nick Godwin, an expert in serious and fatal road collisions said: "Head injuries are the main cause of death for cyclists. The majority of these injuries involve cyclists landing head-first in the road. The importance of wearing a cycle helmet cannot be more emphasised. Anyone not wearing a helmet in these circumstances - if they're lucky enough to survive the impact - is inevitably going to sustain very serious head injuries."

A Department for Transport cycle helmet safety research report commissioned last year to provide a comprehensive review of the effectiveness of cycle helmets in the event of road traffic collisions, highlighted how effective correctly fitting helmets were at reducing the risk of head injuries, in particular cranium fractures, scalp injuries and brain injuries. Biomechanical data reviewed in the report showed that a helmeted head can fall at least four times as far for the same risk of injury as an un-helmeted head, within the range to which cycle helmets are currently tested.

"Cycle helmets have been proven to be effective in a range of accident conditions," said Nick, a specialist in cases involving serious and fatal injuries with Fentons Solicitors LLP. "This is especially so in accidents in which cyclists go over their handlebars or when a vehicle glances a cyclist, tipping them over, causing their head to strike the ground."

A specialist biomechanical assessment of over one-hundred police forensic cyclist fatality reports predicted that between ten and sixteen per cent could have been prevented had the victims been wearing an appropriate cycle helmet. Of the serious cyclist casualties admitted to hospital in England, ten per cent suffered injuries of a type and to a part of the head that a cycle helmet may have mitigated or prevented; and a further twenty per cent suffered 'open wounds to the head', which could also have been prevented had the victims been wearing helmets.

Cycle helmets have been proven to be particularly effective for children. European Standard (EN 1078) impact tests and requirements are currently the same for adult and child cycle helmets, with both using a 1.5m drop height test. Given that younger children are obviously shorter than older children and adults, their height would be within the drop height used in impact tests and as a result a greater proportion of accidents are likely to be covered by the Standard for children.

"It is very important that children become accustomed to wearing a helmet regardless of the kind of surface they are cycling on," said Nick. "Nearly all child cyclist injuries occur off-road and close to home. There doesn't always need to be a vehicle involved for a cyclist crash to be fatal. Any child who is out cycling could fall and hit their head. If they are not protected, the consequences of this could be severe if not fatal."

In 2008, 115 pedal cyclists were killed and 2,450 reported as seriously injured on Britain's roads, accounting for nine per cent of all killed or seriously injured road casualties. Approximately forty per cent of cyclists admitted to hospital in England suffered head injuries.

"Cycle helmets are specifically designed to reduce head injuries by absorbing the energy during a head impact and distributing the load," said Nick. "Wearing an approved cycle helmet has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of head or brain injuries in road traffic collisions."

Laws making cycle helmets compulsory have been successfully introduced in countries like New Zealand, Canada, the Czech Republic, Iceland and some states in Australia. In New Zealand, where a 1994 law was passed making cycle helmet wearing compulsory for all age ranges, research into hospitalisations for head injuries among cyclists concluded that the law had significantly reduced cyclist head injuries by 20 per cent in accidents involving vehicles and by between 24-32 per cent in accidents where vehicles were not involved. Findings suggested helmet wearing reduced the risk of sustaining head and brain injuries for cyclists of all ages by 63-88 per cent.

How can Fentons Solicitors help?
Fentons has a specialist department experienced in handling claims for victims of road traffic collisions.

If you think that you have a case or require further information contact Fentons on 0800 0191 297 or fill in the online claims questionnaire.

Source - Department for Transport