Bike Noob, a blog written by a "biking newbie", has an interesting article on helmet safety and effectiveness over here entitled "Helmets - not as safe as they're cracked up to be?"
The article discusses a study by Dr. Keatinge, who is a member of the editorial board of the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation. Apparently in Dr. Keatinge's review of the available literature on the efficacy of bike helmets, there is "[n]o clear evidence from countries that have enforced the wearing of helmets" showing they do any real good to the wearer in an accident.
In our course of representing numerous bicycle riders who have been injured in a motor vehicle accident while riding their bike, we have found that a good number of these riders have come across the same studies and usually have a done a good deal of research into the question of whether or not wearing a helmet is even worth the trouble. Some of them, unfortunately, have chosen not to wear a helmet, and because the literature is inconclusive, one can hardly blame them. We've even reviewed studies suggesting that the wearing of a bike helmet makes the rider statistically more likely to be involved in an accident with a motor vehicle.
Bike Noob ends the article with sage advice:
I’ve fallen three times in the last nine months. No serious injuries, but all three crashes were my fault. That’s a pretty good indicator that I’m likely to fall again. A helmet won’t save me from my own stupidity, carelessness, or inattention while riding, but it will improve the odds that my noggin won’t be damaged if I do go down.
We agree. Though we don't have a statiscally significant sample of bike wrecks to draw from, in our experience, riders who have worn helmets walk away from crashes that riders who do not wear helmets never get up from. On the flip, we'll look at the standard a little more closely.
Part 1203 of Title 16 of the CFRs is entitled "SAFETY STANDARD FOR BICYCLE HELMETS" (note *pdf link). This is a CPSC regulation, as they are the chief regulator for products like bicycle helmets and it includes a CPSC performance test in four areas: (a) peripheral vision, (b) positional stability, (c) dynamic strength, and the most important, (d) impact attenuation.
The impact attentuation test derives from SAE standard J211 - OCT88, covering the instrumentation required to adequately perform this test. The impact attentuation test seeks compliance of the helmet with a "worst case scenario" and thus it is modified depending on the helmet type. If the helmet fails this test it may not be sold as a CPSC approved helmet.
Not to get too labored with specifics, but the test is a drop test which simulates the impact a rider would expect to receive traveling around 14mph and falling from the bike. In addition, the test impacts different types of anvils to simulate different road conditions, including the dreaded "curb anvil" which simulates a rider falling onto a curb head first.
All impacts must fall within the range of force thresholds that are below the generally accepted head injury thresholds. Moreover, a series of tests is done to ensure that the helmets perform routinely and consistently. Thus the test provides for real world, foreseeable accidents, where without the device, the rider would be subject to forces on their skull above commonly accepted injury thresholds, and consequently with the device, the rider is not subject to the same force levels.
This is not to say that you can't be injured while riding a bicycle with a helmet. But one of the most common accident situations is a low speed fall from a bike onto a curb or roadway, and without a helmet these injuries can be serious, and sometimes deadly. This test helps ensure that the helmet can withstand this easily foreseeable accident and reduce the probability or likelihood of injury by a significant amount.
As the purpose of the rule states: the purpose and basis of this standard is to reduce the likelihood
of serious injury and death to bicyclists resulting from impacts to the head.
In other words, not even the CPSC thinks wearing a CPSC approved bicycle helmet will "prevent" head injury. But it is proven that helmets which keep injurious forces from reaching the wearer's head in foreseeable accidents will make the ride "more safe". And that is all, at the end of the day, we can ask for... making an enjoyable activity "more safe" by the wearing of a light, non-uncomfortable safety device.
Or as Bike Noob concluded: I for one am going to strap on my $35 CPSC-certified helmet and keep riding.
If you or someone you know has been in an accident while riding their bicycle, please consider contacting the Law Office of D. Hardison Wood in Cary, North Carolina. We have handled a number of bicycle injuries and accidents and have even successfully concluded several helmet defect cases and may be able to assist you in protecting your legal rights. Our contact page is here.