Helmet safety claims overstated

Posted on August 1st, 2013 ArizonaBikeLaw

Thanks  to WABA : “The federal government is withdrawing its long-standing claim that bicycle helmets prevent 85% of head injuries, in response to a petition filed by WABA under the federal Data Quality Act.”

Congratulations to WABA (a Washington, DC, Area Bike advocacy group) for holding the government to account. While this, of course, is not going to end the “helmet wars”, it will hopefully move us back towards evidence-based investigation of bicycling transportation safety.

The particular US government agencies involved are the CDC and NHTSA who confirmed by letter they will stop disseminating the oft-quoted 85% figure. The NHSTA will, however, continue to claim helmets are “the single most important way to prevent head injury resulting from a bicycle crash”.

The WABA article is, by the way, a good explanation of what can go wrong with case-control type statistics that often are the output of public health community researchers. These types of claims are often(always?) behind the most stunning soundbytes, see e.g. cycle-tracks-are-NINE-TIMES-safer-than-roads.

Speaking of helmets, there was a recent long article in bicycling magazine; which is really interesting stuff about the current CPSC-mandated safety standards might be limiting advances that would allow different (different than the omnipresent EPS) materials, and better protection, especially from concussion.