Helmets designed to absorb energy

I SYMPATHISE with Nick Carter whose grandson died after falling from his bike on the Downs (Seaford Gazette, April 20).

If he had been wearing a cycle helmet that might have saved his life, and on the Downs, where the main risk factors relate to the competence of the rider and the state of the path, it seems that it is advisable for all cyclists to wear them.

Risks on the roads are different, where the behaviour of other road users is a major factor.

Typical helmets are designed to absorb the energy of a fall at 12mph, but collisions with vehicles usually occur at much higher speeds.

Helmets resist crushing injuries to some extent, but they may add to the damage caused by rotational forces.

In 2006 Dr Ian Walker of Bath University used a proximity detector which recorded how much margin drivers allowed when passing him.

When he rode without a helmet drivers allowed him an extra 8.5cm on average, and when he wore a wig they allowed an extra 14cm.

It is important to reduce the damage caused by an accident, but it is better not to have one at all.

Helmets are rare in the Netherlands (about one rider in 1,000), and cycling fatalities are about one third of the rate in Australia where helmets are compulsory.

When helmets are made compulsory, many people give up cycling and lose the health benefits associated with it.

As yet no sufficiently comprehensive research has been done to fully evaluate the various risks and it would be immoral to enforce the wearing of helmets while there is still serious doubt about whether they make cyclists more or less safe.

David Hitchin

Wilkinson Way, Seaford