British Brain Surgeon Claims Bike Helmets Are Pointless—Is He Right?

It’s an iron-clad rule of bicycle safety: wear your helmet. Sure, you exchange a cool-kid image for brain protection, but surely no rational person thinks that’s an unworthy sacrifice.

Except a rogue British brain surgeon who’s making waves with his helmet apostasy. Not only does he claim the thin shells are too flimsy to offer real protection for most crashes; he argues that helmets can create more danger by lulling people into a false sense of security.

Should we burn him at the stake? We’re civilized, so let's hear him out first.

The Anti-Helmet Argument

Dr. Henry Marsh, a neurosurgeon at St. George’s Hospital in London, spoke at a recent literary festival (you know, where all good sports injury arguments are made) saying, “I ride a bike and I never wear a helmet. In the countries where bike helmets are compulsory there has been no reduction in bike injuries whatsoever.” He then pointed to research indicating that cyclists wearing helmets make drivers feel less cautious, leading them to drive an average of three inches closer to cyclists—which obviously increases the possibility of accidents.

The paper makes an important caveat though: helmets are useful for children, since kiddies tend to experience low-speed accidents in which helmets provide sufficient protection. (So don’t de-helmet your kid on our account.)

While the good doctor has plenty of critics, other cycling enthusiasts support his helmet liberation campaign. One Copenhagen “cycling ambassador” even claims that helmets can cause more brain damage in high-speed crashes, and posited the question: Why don’t pedestrians wear helmets, since they typically suffer more brain damage from being hit by cars than cyclists?

We can probably all agree there should be more research on the subject before we start throwing helmet-crushing parties. Still, the idea of hopping on your bike with only your natural body parts—and possibly clothes, if that’s your thing—does sound appealing. Plus, it could potentially lure more people out of their cars and onto the pleasant pedaling contraptions.

Image: ThinkStock

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