That's a tabloid question – the type that I see asked these days by too many people who should know better (Leigh Sales, I'm looking at you) – but it's an interesting way to view the editorial by Ben Goldacre and David Spiegelhalter in BMJ, about studies
into the efficacy of helmet legislation – a new Canadian study says minimal effect, although other studies draw different conclusions from different data sets.
All these studies suffer from methodological issues: control groups consisting of people with injuries not on the head instead of uninjured riders; users in the studies possibly not wearing helmets in the correct way; overall risk awareness of helmet users vs. the rest… add to that the cultural and psychological factors and it's a real mess for accurate study.
As the editorial also says, public health issues regarding cyclists are bigger than just whether or not helmets are worn. Overall, cycling has great health benefits and public policy should keep that in mind.
Like so many other public health issues, whether or not helmets are effective differs on an individual level from the a societal level. Personal and anecdotal experiences are single points in a big picture and your experience may not correspond to mine for a number of reasons, even though the overall effect is small (according to this study).
As well as the above factors, there is also the "professional/amateur" divide – the so-called lycra brigade who are more experienced on the road (or at least more confident) may be less likely to have accidents but may have more serious accidents when they do crash. That's probably me 🙂
The conclusion is one that seems more suited to a discussion of placebos. It's not the helmet itself, but the increased awareness of risk that the helmets and discussion thereof bring to society, that is the real benefit; if you think about your safety, you're more safe in general than if you don't think about it.
That said, boys and girls, wear a helmet and be visible. Use lights and hi-vis gear. Even if you're thinking about your safety, the other road users probably aren't.
(h/t tofor mentioning this article)
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