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.