If your head’s only worth 10 dollars…
With arrival of spring (technically, anyway) some of you might be thinking about a new helmet. The debate rages—full-face vs. open, Snell-approved vs. DoT.
Scootin’ Old Skool’s New Zealand Bureau Chief, Ken McGrath, weighs in:
As far back as I can remember, New Zealand has made helmets compulsory. Apart from the misery caused by head injuries, the rationale was based on the country’s free public health system where the taxpayer would have to foot the bill for treatment and rehabilitation.
My own father was a victim of not wearing a crash hat—wearing only a leather flying helmet just before the war, he slipped on a wet street tramline and dropped his motorcycle under a truck.
The blow to his head filled his left inner ear with blood and he was permanently deafened on that side, hence his inability to serve overseas in WWII (he served as an RNZAF engineer).
Although I totally agree with your comments on the sense of wearing a helmet, as a neuroscientist (my postgraduate thesis research was undertaken on the brain), I cannot agree with your strong support for the Snell standards.
This is because the Snell tests require resistance to a penetrating blow in the same spot twice. This results in a very stiff design which transfers the forces normally experienced in a motorcycle accident (a blow to the head from the road, usually on the side and certainly not penetration in the same spot twice) through the helmet and skull into the brain itself. That is to say that a Snell certified helmet does not absorb enough energy.
Most people do not realise that the brain has the consistency of firm Jell-O and getting it out of the cranium at necropsy is a very difficult undertaking if one does not wish to squish one’s fingers through the organ! My initial trainer in examination of the brain was a dab hand at getting the brain out and I wondered at first why he took, and insisted on, such care until I had a fresh brain in my hands.
A person can suffer serious brain injury by just falling over and banging his/her head, an impact from a fall of just over a metre from rest. Most brain injuries result from torsion, because the brain can twist within the skull causing haemorrhage around the brainstem or trauma to the brainstem and/or upper spinal cord. It is therefore vital that the helmet absorb as much energy as possible.
When I was wiped-out by the police car in 1967, as I went over the top of the car I struck my head in the center of its roof, denting it spectacularly. The lining of my helmet was soft and the fibreglass shell was shattered, so that I suffered nothing, not even a stiff neck. My only injuries at 30 mph were to my right ankle (torn ligament) and right thigh (muscle crushing) from the impact with the car side.
The experts on testing helmets in the US of A are those who test military helmets for the Navy and Air Force, namely Harry Hurt and Dave Thom. We can be sure that the military have every desire to protect their expensively trained personnel and the money to get the best. Hurt & Thom have declared the Snell test a rip-off (increases the cost) and a danger by being too stiff, and have stated that the DOT standard is the best available.
May I prevail upon you to read the article I have attached (here, here and here—it’s in three parts) and then reconsider your advocacy of the Snell standards? I totally agree with everything Harry says which squares with my coronial/forensic experience (my training boss was the district neuropathologist and we did very many accident post-mortems).
Ken’s credentials are certainly impressive, giving his argument considerable weight. Personally, I don’t think the idea of the same spot on the helmet being impacted twice is so far-fetched. I use MotoGP riders’ wipeouts as an example of what I hope I’ll have the presence of mind to do if I do experience something similar, i.e., don’t try to break my fall.
But it must also be remembered that most traffic accidents happen at rather low speeds, so one is not so likely to bounce along the pavement for many yards.
By way of clarification, I don’t wish for anything I’ve said about helmets to be taken as advocacy; I’ve studied the issue extensively and made a decision based on those studies. I urge everyone else to do likewise. I also urge everyone to remember that a helmet cannot protect any part of your head that it does not cover.
But I’m always willing to listen to new arguments and new evidence. Keep in mind, a modular, aka flip-face, helmet cannot meet Snell standards. But that’s what Safety Ed was wearing in Portland, and he suffered no head injury from his fall.
Had he been wearing a piss-pot, all bets would’ve been off.