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New cycling helmet prototype should save lives

Although the good news to come from the pandemic is the huge increase in people cycling (and walking) either to work or simply for the pleasure of exercise, the downside, of course, is the unfortunate associated increase in cycling accidents.

According to Transport for London figures posted this summer, the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured on London’s roads increased by 12 per cent last year as more people took to two wheels during the pandemic.

Six cyclists were killed in London in 2020, up from five in 2019, while the number suffering serious injury increased from 773 to 862.

However, pleased to read being a cyclist myself is the good news that the risk of dying or serious injury while cycling in London actually fell by 24 per cent, due to more people using a bike, with distances ridden up roughly 46 per cent year-on-year. This means the risk actually fell from 1.2 to 0.9 incidents per million kilometres cycled.

With more focus on the benefits of cycling, the issue of safety also attracts increased scrutiny. Now, interesting research from the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore has resulted in a stronger, safer bicycle helmet prototype with higher energy absorption, meaning the amount of energy transferred to a cyclist's head in an accident is reduced, thereby lowering the chances of a serious head injury.

The design came from the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and involves a composite helmet with an outer shell made mainly of a new type of acrylic thermoplastic resin, reinforced with carbon fibre.

Most bicycle helmets currently consist of two components: an outer shell, usually made from a mass-produced plastic such as polycarbonate and, underneath, a layer of expanded polystyrene foam, as used in food takeaway boxes.

The outer shell is designed to crack on impact to spread the energy across the entire surface of the helmet. The foam layer then compresses and absorbs the bulk of impact energy so that less energy transfers to the head.

This new helmet has an outer shell that is tougher, stiffer and less brittle than a polycarbonate shell. It also increases the helmet's contact time - the total time of impact in which the helmet experiences impact load.

This allows the outer shell to absorb more impact energy for longer, while also dissipating it evenly throughout the helmet. This results in less overall force reaching the head, thereby reducing the chances of serious or fatal injury.

According to the World Health Organisation report of 2020, more than 60 per cent of the reported bicycle-related deaths and long-term disabilities result from accidents involving head injuries.

While we welcome any new research that helps keep cyclists safe, we will continue to lobby for safer roads for cyclists and increased awareness from drivers, particularly of large vehicles. We will also continue to fight for appropriate settlement for cycling clients injured on the roads to enable them to undergo the best rehabilitation to get them back to their former selves as quickly as possible.

Read more about our cycling accident claims.

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