Bicycle Helmets

Interesting article the in the BMJ about the complexity of bicycle helmet research by Ben Goldacre and David Spiegelhalter. They talk about the methodological and political challenges surrounding the question of bike helmets and cite a very well done Canadian study. I think the final paragraph is interesting because they says more research is probably not going to get us a more definitive answer. I disagree (I do this research after all) but I think there is an interesting point the bolded (my emphasis) section:

In any case, the current uncertainty about any benefit from helmet wearing or promotion is unlikely to be substantially reduced by further research. Equally, we can be certain that helmets will continue to be debated, and at length. The enduring popularity of helmets as a proposed major intervention for increased road safety may therefore lie not with their direct benefits—which seem too modest to capture compared with other strategies—but more with the cultural, psychological, and political aspects of popular debate around risk.

I agree that our interest should be with these “other strategies,” rather than with cycling helmets. Not that cycling helmets don’t “work” it’s just that they don’t work very well compared to other things. For my money, cycling infrastructure and traffic calming are good places to start. These benefit not only cyclists but all road users. My friend and colleague Patrick Morency and I wrote a paper on this recently

Thanks Ben Goldacre and David Spiegelhalter. For everyone else, if you haven’t read Bad Science you really should add it to your holiday reading list.

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