Does wearing a cycling helmet improve your chances of survival in an accident?

Penny Farthing Cycling Helemet SafetyCycling is a great way to get some exercise and to zip from place to place without polluting the environment. However, it does come with its risks – mainly in the form of injuries sustained in tumbles and collisions. So it seems like common sense to protect your most important body part (your head) with a helmet. However, what seems obvious is not always a no-brainer…

In general, the facts agree that wearing a helmet is a good thing to do. In recent years, there have been severalmajor meta-analyses – overviews that pool the results of many different studies – to understand the overall effectiveness of cycling helmets in protecting their wearers. More or less, they come out with expected result – helmets reduce the risk of head, brain and facial injury by about 70%

However, not everyone is convinced. Some have criticised such research for being biased in favour of helmet-wearing by ignoring studies that buck the trend. A 2013 re-analysis of all the figures suggested that wearing a helmet is actually a lot less effective than first thought (although still in favour of wearing cycle helmets).

This seems counterintuitive – why would wearing a helmet increase your risk of injury? Separate research suggests that riders feel safer when they wear a helmet, so take more risks on the road. Likewise, drivers who see cyclists wearing a helmet have been found to give them less space than their bare-headed counterparts. What’s more, it has been suggested that cyclists think of a helmet as a one-stop shop to safe riding and so neglect other factors, such as bike maintenance, road safety skills and not cycling blindfolded.

Cycle safety may not be as straightforward as it first seems, but wearing a helmet is still a very good idea to protect your noggin from harm. But it’s probably not sensible to use it as an excuse to do wheelies and backflips – that’s when accidents happen.

Answer by Nick Waszkowycz


Thompson, Diane C., F. P. Rivara, and Robert Thompson. “Helmets for preventing head and facial injuries in bicyclists.” Cochrane database of systematic reviews 4 (1999). DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001855

Attewell, R., K. Glase, and M. McFadden. Bicycle helmets and injury prevention: A formal review. No. CR 195. (2000).

Attewell, Robyn G., Kathryn Glase, and Michael McFadden. “Bicycle helmet efficacy: a meta-analysis.” Accident Analysis & Prevention 33.3 (2001): 345-352. DOI: 10.1016/S0001-4575(00)00048-8

Elvik, Rune. “Corrigendum to:“Publication bias and time-trend bias in meta-analysis of bicycle helmet efficacy: A re-analysis of Attewell, Glase and McFadden, 2001”[Accid. Anal. Prev. 43 (2011) 1245–1251].” Accident Analysis & Prevention 60 (2013): 245-253. DOI: 10.1016/j.aap.2012.12.003

Phillips, Ross Owen, Aslak Fyhri, and Fridulv Sagberg. “Risk compensation and bicycle helmets.” Risk analysis 31.8 (2011): 1187-1195. DOI: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.2011.01589.x

Walker, Ian. “Drivers overtaking bicyclists: Objective data on the effects of riding position, helmet use, vehicle type and apparent gender”. Accident Analysis & Prevention 39 2 (2007): 417–25. doi:10.1016/j.aap.2006.08.010

Baden, U., et al. “IMPROVING BICYCLE SAFETY without making helmet-use compulsory (brochure)”. European Cyclists’ Federation, Brussels. (1998)

Image credit: Katy Silberger on flickr

Article by Nick Waszkowycz

July 23, 2014

Nick studied Chemistry at university but decided that the pen was mightier than the conical flask. He decided to set off in search of a way to make his fortune from writing. He is still looking. But like all young men, Nick enjoys football, theatre and debunking conspiracy theorists. He shares his adventure in Berlin at and writes nonsense about football at Follow him on twitter at @nwaszkowycz.

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One thought on “Does wearing a cycling helmet improve your chances of survival in an accident?”

  1. Sometimes, in winter, wearing a helmet on top of my beanie really makes me feel very unsafe because it’s way too heavy on my head and it kind of prevents my sight from 2 sides.

    But obviously, as this articles has stated, wearing a helmet is always a good idea!!!

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