Helmets Are Dangerous And Responsible For Most Accidents In Action Sports


Now that I’ve got your attention, with that extreme statement in the title that is certainly wrong, I’ve got a point to make.

Let’s be clear here. I love helmets. I have at least five, including two full-faces. I have an entire shelf just for helmets. I’ve worn a helmet sport climbing at Centennial Glen when no-one else even brought one. I love protective gear. I’m the only guy wearing pads at the skatepark. I use a mouthguard occasionally for mountain biking, and everyone looks at me like I’m crazy.

It pains me to rubbish helmets. But. I need to make this point. A bit like the Chaser’s War On Everything used to, I feel I need to go much too far in this direction, to counteract the huge and morally righteous pull to the other direction.

Helmets Do Not Make You Safe

Let’s consider what a helmet does. A helmet can reduce (not eliminate) the force of an impact to the head. If you hit your head hard enough, you can still sustain a head injury. If you take an impact in such a way that rotational force is imparted, you can break your neck, or still get a really bad concussion due to the brain rotating in your skull (Oh, your helmet has MIPS. That’s nice, because of all the peer-reviewed research showing the effectiveness of ohhhhhhhh wait there’s none).

So you survived a toaster-sized block falling on your head. You survived hitting your head on the ground in a bicycle crash. You slipped on an icy slope, and your helmet totally saved you. You’re not wrong! Your helmet almost certainly did save you, from a severe concussion, skull fracture, or worse.

However, I am now going to drop a rock the size of a small car on your head. This could happen to you. Or if you ride bikes, I’m going to left-hook you with a B-double. If you ski, you are going to hit this tree branch at 50km/h with your chest. Better wear that helmet. You can even wear two helmets if you want! But it’s not going to help.

I really believe that there are many people and groups, wearing shiny new technology-loaded helmets, who are at a greater risk than other people and groups who don’t wear helmets, but are more experienced and conservative.

YOU Make You Safe

Rock falls are not really random. In the Blue Mountains for example, it can be made more likely by recent rain, or by people stumbling around the tops of cliffs, or by people jumping on boulders without checking how much they wobble first, or yanking on obviously unsupported blocks (such a huge jug though!), or standing on the edge of the biggest and thinnest ironstone ledge they can find. I mean, when you are pulling down a rope, you are literally pulling everything on the cliff top above you towards the edge with a rope – it’s Wile. E . Coyote stuff.

Also, did you know? There is a sport climbing helmet that is amazingly effective against inverted lead falls, and lighter than anything else on the market. It’s called “Stop putting your fucking leg in front of the rope, holy flying spaghetti monster how did anyone let you pass a lead climbing course with rope management like that”.

There’s a LOT of things that can be done to avoid a bad situation, before you need that helmet. Split the party up and proceed one-by-one through risky spots, waiting for each other in safe zones. Double-check the guidebook and stay on route. DOUBLE-CHECK THE GUIDE GUIDEBOOK AND STAY ON ROUTE, FOR GOODNESS’ SAKES. Test things and think before you throw your weight on them. Stand either a long way from the cliff, or very close to it, before pulling the rope. Ski and ride in control. Run bright lights in the daytime. Learn to hockey stop your skis on a dime. Learn to smoothly stop a bike with your front brake.

Some people aren’t lucky, they don’t get a miracle, and the helmet didn’t save them

Sorry about that asshole driving the B-double. He didn’t see you, so he won’t be prosecuted.

Risk Compensation is Real

And it is very dangerous.

Risk compensation is the phenomena, where people are emboldened by safety improvements and protective gear, and then go on to take even bigger risks that dwarf the safety margin the gear and improvements gave them.

If think doing something without a helmet is too dangerous, maybe don’t do it. If you wouldn’t go that fast if you weren’t wearing a helmet, maybe don’t go that fast. If you wouldn’t do it by yourself, why do you think having a friend watching you is safer?

You Do Realise That Absolutely No-One Wore Helmets Until, Like, 10 Years Ago

There are entire generations of skiers, climbers, skateboarders, road cyclists, and even motorsport participants who never wore a helmet a day in their sporting lives. Huge mounds of corpses began to pile up, and special cemeteries had to be created. Actually, no. Most of them had a great time, had kids, and introduced their kids to the sport, giving a big Darwinian tick of approval to not wearing helmets.

But, you say, it was so much more dangerous! Oh, absolutely it was. And there were many, many preventable head injuries. But this needs to be put IN PERSPECTIVE.

But After All That, Helmets Do Reduce Risk

Helmets do reduce one major risk of action sports and adventurous pasttimes, by a small-to-moderate amount. And you need that, really you do. We need all the help we can get in these trying times.

But remember, they reduce risk, not eliminate it. They are but one part of your overall head-injury-reduction strategy.

There should be an International Don’t Wear A Helmet Day

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and ride my bike without a helmet, and I’m going to do it solely to piss you off.

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