Helmets have been around as old as war itself. Although they have evolved from protective equipment used in warfare to protective equipment used to guard the head from practically anything, they still serve the same purpose, don’t they? Here is a visual guide to the evolution of the helmet.

But why wear one? Do they really offer protection, or do they just give cyclists a false sense of security that leads to leniency on the road, ergo more accidents? Which brings us to the never-ending debate: do helmets really save lives?

We all know helmets are used to protect the head. According to the World Health Organization (WHO): “wearing a helmet is the single most effective way of reducing head injuries and fatalities resulting from motorcycle and bicycle crashes”. In the United States alone, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that helmets are 35 percent effective in preventing fatalities, 26 percent effective in preventing injuries at least serious enough to require transport to the emergency room, and 9 percent effective in preventing all injury. You can learn more statistics by clicking this link.

In addition, WHO emphasizes that “motorcyclists who do not wear helmets are at a much higher risk of sustaining head injuries and from dying from these injuries”.

What causes motorcycle accidents?

Harry Brown Jr., DC, JD has written cars making dangerous hard-left turns make up 42% of all collisions between motorcycles and another vehicle. He adds that: “these accidents are pretty common among passenger vehicles as well, but the smaller size and the less visibility with motorcycles make these accidents even more common.” In some instances, the motorcycle may be found partially at fault if they are speeding or driving along the wrong lane.

Brown also attributes motorcycle accidents with hazardous road conditions which could prove fatal for any motorcyclist. Things such as “slippery surfaces, loose gravel, uneven pavements, or any debris in the roadway cause countless motorcycle accidents” are all dangerous to motorcycles compared to their larger passenger vehicle counterparts, increasing their susceptibility to road accidents.

Lane splitting may also be a cause for many accidents on the road. The state of California defines lane splitting as “a motorcycle ridden between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane including on both divided and undivided streets, roads, or highways”.Sabrina Giacomini of rideapart.com simplifies it as “turning the dotted line into a temporary, miniature express lane for motorcycles”. Read more about it here.

Like many other accidents, reckless driving, speeding, and the influence of alcohol are not uncommon causes of motorcycle accidents. These include going over the speed limit, driving distracted or aggressively, and abuse of substances such as alcohol and drugs. Naturally, these are not safe.

In Brown’s article, it is written that “the most common cause of motorcycle accidents is the failure of other motorists on the road to detect and recognize motorcycles on the road”. The bikes’ small size makes it hard for many drivers to see a motorcycle approaching. Brown adds that “even the safest, most skilled motorcyclist can’t avoid an accident if the other cars on the road don’t see them.”

Motorcycle helmet statistics

If most accidents are caused by the above reasons and not because the motorcyclist is not wearing a helmet, why wear one? The answer is simple: they do not.

Let me explain. Helmets do not prevent accidents nor guarantee survival. Instead, they offer physical protection from said accidents as a secondary safety feature thus reducing the risk of suffering from serious brain or head injury. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report in 2012 that 59% of the motorcyclists killed not wearing helmets come from states that do not have an all-rider helmet law and only 8% motorcycle fatalities in states that enforce wearing helmets.

Motorcycles are considered the most hazardous kind of motor vehicle transportation. The NHTSA estimates that in 2013, 1630 motorcyclist lives have been saved by helmets and another 715 lives could have been saved have helmets been worn.

Not only are helmets compulsory when driving along roads in countries such as the Philippines, the effectiveness of helmets in preventing serious head injury cannot be ignored. Choosing bright-colored helmets or adding reflectors help motorcyclists be more visible to other traffic as well hence reducing the risk of not being seen by other vehicles.

Helmets are also available in various price ranges and different styles. They may be customized by adding stickers or getting custom-painted to make riders more inclined in wearing one. Wearing helmets also teach younger children the importance of safety and protecting oneself and in turn, awareness of other people around them.

Road accidents cannot be avoided unless stricter regulations on the road are implemented. With enough driver training and education, safer roads free from obstruction, and proper signages in key locations, we can drastically reduce accidents on the road. And wearing a helmet is a step forward in the right direction. 

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