Norwegian study set to reignite helmet debate

Study downgrades protective effect of cycle helmets

New research from the Norway Institute of Transport Economics has cast doubt on the safety benefits of cycle helmets, as reported by the New Zealand Herald.

The Institute’s Dr Elvik found that helmets reduced the risk of head injuries in a crash by only 43 per cent, contradicting previous studies – including the worldwide Cochrane Collaboration – that found head injuries in crashes were reduced by wearing a helmet by at least 60 per cent.

Dr Elvik’s controversial findings added that wearing a helmet increases the risk of neck injuries, so that when head, face and neck injuries are combined, helmets have no cumulative protective effect. His review has been published in Accident Analysis and Prevention.

The University of Auckland’s Professor Alistair Woodward told the New Zealand Herald that Elviks study hadn’t contradicted that helmets do reduce head injuries by around half, but conceded the point on neck injuries:

"It’s reasonably clear to my mind that helmets do protect people’s heads and on balance they do more good than harm.

"Whether they cause the neck to bend more than otherwise, I suppose it’s possible. If there is an effect [on neck injuries], it’s much smaller than the protective effect from head injuries.

Cycle helmets are compulsory by law in New Zealand. Cyclist risk a NZ$55 fine if caught not wearing one – cyclists were issued 9,618 tickets for the offence last year.

Compulsory helmets are a subject of fiery debate worldwide. Earlier this month US TV station WWAY TV withdrew a story on the death of two cyclists who were involved in car accident. The initial report drew attention to the fact that neither cyclist wore a helmet and was later withdrawn after criticism of the stance.

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