Would you wear a bicycle helmet when bicycling if there was a new and better bicycle helmet? We hope so. Bicycle helmets can prevent many head injuries resulting from accidents and deaths in bicycle-vehicle crashes. The challenge lies in people (particularly adults) choosing not to wear a bicycle helmet.
Virginia Bicycling Accident Statistics
Bicycle accidents account for only a fraction of the highway crashes in Virginia. Based on currently available Virginia data, the number of crashes, injuries and fatalities involving bicycles are:
Current estimates across the country indicate that only 29 percent of American adult bicyclists say they always wear a helmet when bicycling. Based on the same data, only 15 percent of American adult bicyclists say they wear a helmet occasionally. Only a mere 44 percent of these adults ever wear a helmet.
Why the Bicycle Helmet Matters
We all know that bicyclists do not have the protection of a vehicle surrounding them. Often the speed at which the vehicle is traveling when it hits the bicyclist determines the severity of many of the injuries sustained. A bicycle helmet is often the only thing protecting a bicyclist from a serious head injury. But the helmet must be worn if it is to do its job.
Engineers have made steady progress creating effective bicycle helmets over the last few decades. The materials, the shape, and the size of helmets have changed more than once. The helmet is not yet perfect. People are not purchasing and wearing the latest and best helmets.
Inspiring a New Helmet
In Philadelphia, a young woman was involved in a bicycling accident. She was not wearing a helmet. She spent four months after the accident in a coma. People asked, “was she wearing a helmet?” and “why wasn’t she wearing a helmet?”
At the time, the woman’s brother was an engineering student at Virginia Tech. He and another student decided to try to design a new bicycle helmet that people would wear when riding. Current helmets are large and they have a hard exterior shell. The shape is also unique. This points to one of the reasons many bicyclists do not wear helmets: they are odd looking, they are uncomfortable, they are bulky to carry around while doing other things.
David Hall and Jordan Klein designed a new bicycle helmet. The new design looks much like a baseball cap (although a bit lumpy), it is comfortable to wear, and it folds up to the size of a large water bottle. The larger task was to design this helmet to be stronger and provide greater safety to bicyclists. They approached the task by using composite materials (many current helmets start with a block of foam).
After three years devoted to research and development, Hall and Klein had an attractive, comfortable, foldable helmet that provided greater protection than those we have today. The composite material allows the helmet to prevent both skull fracture and concussion. Current helmets are designed to prevent skull fracture. The new design absorbs and dissipates energy from the crash away from the bicyclist’s head.
Will It Matter?
The first step in getting people to wear a helmet is to make it attractive and comfortable. The important issue is making the bicyclists safer. One international study found that wearing a standard helmet of current design and materials reduces the risk of sustaining a serious head injury by 70 percent and the risk of sustaining a fatal head injury by 65 percent.
This new helmet design may be key to preventing head injuries and fatalities due to bicycle accidents. In a time when bicycle sharing opportunities are growing, making a helmet that can be carried until needed and then used when riding is a positive step in preventing or mitigating injuries from bicycle accidents.
The helmet goes on sale today for $79 on Indegogo. We hope it will fulfill its promise.
You can learn more about the process of designing and creating the new helmet here: