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Cycling fatalities: When a helmet is useless and when it might save your life

Bíl, M., Dobiáš, M., Andrášik, R., Bílová, M., Hejna, P., 2018. Cycling Fatalities: When A Helmet is Useless and when it Might Save Your Life. Safety Science 105C, 71–76.


Autopsy reports of 119 cyclists who died in two Czech regions between 1995 and 2013 as a result of traffic crashes were studied. In all the study cases, pathologists analyzed whether a helmet could have helped the cyclists survive the crash or not. The crash circumstances from the police reports were then evaluated.

The results indicate that helmets could have helped the most in cases of single-vehicle crashes when cyclists fell off their bicycles or hit obstacles and in certain cases when an intracranial injury was the primary cause of death. Altogether 44 cyclists (37%) from this study could have survived if they had been wearing helmets during the crashes.

Helmets would not have helped cyclists in most high-energetic crashes, especially when motor-vehicles or trains were involved. Some rear-end crashes outside urban areas also resulted in injuries when a helmet would not have helped.

This study concludes that cyclists should wear helmets, but they should also be aware that it cannot protect them in particular situations. These facts should be incorporated into safety campaigns to prevent cyclists from feeling protected in such situations when helmets cannot help. Our results also support the building of cycling paths separate from traffic, particularly outside of urban areas.