Bicycle helmets most effective in low speed collisions

A UCD professor who conducted a study of cyclists with fatal head injuries is recommending bicycle helmets be worn to protect against head injuries in the event of a collision, particularly at speeds of less than 50km/h. 

The results of the study were presented at the annual Road Safety Authority's academic road safety lecture.  

Professor Michael Gilchrist, head of school of mechanical and materials engineering at University College Dublin, presented the results of his study ‘Analysis and Reconstruction of Bicycle Accidents’ which was conducted as part of the RSA academic bursary programme.

In his study, Prof Gilchrist and his team used data from 37 fatal collisions involving cyclists in Ireland over a 10 year period and staged computer reconstructions to determine whether a helmet would have offered protection. The study found that bicycle helmets offer effective protection at low speeds of less than 50km/h, but their protective capabilities are reduced as speeds increase.

Mr Seamus Morris, consultant orthopaedic surgeon and director of the National Spinal Injuries Unit at the Mater Hospital, said from 2010 to 2014, the unit saw a 320 per cent (from five in 2010 to 21 in 2014 ) increase in the number of cyclists presenting with spinal injuries, with 30 per cent of these patients having spinal cord injuries. Over that time a total of 53 cyclists required admission, of whom 21 per cent had spinal cord injuries.

Last year, 13 cyclists were killed on Irish roads, more than double the number killed in 2013 (five ). In-depth research conducted by the RSA on cycling injuries in 2012 found that there was a 59 per cent  increase in the number of cyclists injured on Irish roads in 2012 compared to 2011. Almost half of cyclists injured in 2012 were injured at junctions, with T-junctions being the most dangerous.  The most dangerous manoeuvres taken by drivers included right turns, followed by left turns. These manoeuvres by drivers accounted for almost four in 10 injuries to cyclists in 2012.

The RSA is appealing to drivers to reduce their speed when sharing the roads with cyclists as it can determine the severity of an injury in the event of a collision, and to be extra vigilant at junctions and when turning. The authority is also asking cyclists to be aware of their vulnerability when on the roads, particularly in built-up areas, and to take steps to protect themselves when cycling, including wearing the correct safety gear and complying with the rules of the road.

Mr Morris said the first 24 hours after a collision was critical.

“Recent key evidence from the US notes that early surgery within 24 hours of injury is associated with a significant improvement in recovery. The logistics of getting a patient to the operating theatre in that time frame can be challenging with patients being referred from nationwide.  An efficient referral network is key to achieving this goal as are a trained surgical team, full radiology support including 24 hour access to CT and MRI, and 24 hour access to the operating room.”

“We all need to view the road as a shared space and behave with the appropriate respect, consideration and caution for other road-users. ”

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