When I act for a cyclist involved in an accident, I always ask if a helmet was worn. The reason is, failure to wear a helmet can be used to reduce your compensation after a cycle accident.
The law may agree you have contributed to the injury by failing to wear a cycle helmet. This is called contributory negligence. The car driver is at fault, or negligent, by pulling out in front of you and causing the bicycle accident, but you are partly to blame for not wearing a cycle helmet, IF wearing the helmet would have reduced the injury. You will be judged to have contributed to your injury, a percentage will be attached to that contribution, with that percentage being deducted from your compensation. This is over-simplified so do read on.
A partial finding against a cyclist is not automatic. The party who caused the accident will have to prove you were careless in not wearing a helmet and show the injury was made worse by not wearing a helmet. So there is not an automatic finding against the cyclist and it is for the other side to prove a helmet would have reduced the injury.
There is no guarantee a cycle helmet will reduce a particular injury. This is because:
- Not all cycle helmets offer the same protection.
- A cycle helmet may not be the correct size.
- A cycle helmet may not be secured correctly.
- The safety standards for cycle helmets are actually pretty low.
The required standards for cycle helmets are low, because a cycle helmet is a compromise. Just compare it with a motorcycle helmet. Cyclists want something light, well ventilated and, perhaps, even good looking. Brain injury is caused by acceleration of the brain inside the skull, so the job of a cycling helmet is to absorb that acceleration. That means something big and soft, but of course not all cyclists are going to wear a helmet like that.
The current safety standard we work to in the UK is called EN 1078:1997, but take note, many helmets do not satisfy this standard. In my own simple terms, the cycle helmet must offer protection to someone falling from a bicycle onto a hard surface. That is not the same as being hit by a car travelling at 30 miles per hour.
There is some useful information at http://cyclehelmets.org/papers/c2023.pdf which dates back to 2005 but is still current.
The Snell Memorial Foundation is a not for profit organisation based in the United States. They have their own testing criteria. Be warned, you may have to look hard to find helmets that satisfy their requirements, but they should provide better protection than cycle helmets which only satisfy our own standards.
Safety rarely means absolute safety. There is always a compromise between any activity, the risks and the equipment we are prepared to wear.