Do Helmets Increase Risk of Head Injury?

by John McKiggan

If there is one thing that everyone knows it’s that wearing a helmet reduces the risk of head injury. Or does it?

Risky Business?

New research published by Mikael Colvill-Andersen suggests that people who wear helmets are more likely to engage in the type of risky behavior that results in head injuries.

Colvill-Anderson claims:

“There are actually scientific studies that show your risk of brain injuries is higher when you’re wearing a helmet, and that you have a 14% greater chance of getting into an accident with a helmet on…”

Controversial…or Just Dangerous?

Needless to say, Colvill-Anderson’s statements have raised a storm of controversy among doctors, brain injury organizations and sports organizations.

Helmet Laws Reduce Injuries

Most provinces have laws requiring people to wear helmets when they ride bicycles. Ontario’s helmet law was passed in 1995 and a test conducted by Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children found that bicycle fatalities among children dropped after the legislation was introduced. However, bicycle fatalities among adults (who were not covered by the helmet law) remained the same.

Colville-Andersen’s research is based on the “risk homeostasis” theory that everyone has a “preset” level of risk tolerance. The theory suggests that when you do something to decrease your risk of injury you compensate by engaging in more risky behavior.

For example, the risk homeostasis theory states that if someone decreases their risk by wearing a seat belt they may unconsciously drive faster.

It appears that the weight of scientific evidence is critical of the risk homeostasis theory.

Helmets or No Helmets?

While some sports require helmets as a condition of playing (hockey and football are obvious examples) other sports that some might consider equally violent actually ban helmets, rugby and lacrosse for example.

What Do You Think?

If you wear a helmet are you more likely to engage in risk taking behavior? Or are helmets just a common sense way of preventing concussions and brain injury?

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