Damaged safety helmets increase serious head injury risk by 19% – research

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The risk of serious head injuries increases when an already damaged helmet or a wrong helmet is worn, an Austrian study has shown.
The risk of serious head injuries increases when an already damaged helmet or a wrong helmet is worn, Austrian research has shown.

Austrian research into damaged and ill-suited safety helmets has highlighted the risks of using compromised head protection in sport.

While the investigation by researchers from Graz University of Technology and Austrian automotive club ÖAMTC centered on moped riders, the message was that the risk of serious head injuries increases when a damaged helmet or the wrong type of helmet is worn.

The Institute of Vehicle Safety at TU Graz, in cooperation with the ÖAMTC  and child injury prevention association Große schützen Kleine investigated how different types of helmets behave in accident situations, how well they protect riders and how moped riders can minimise the risk of injury. The project was funded from the Austrian Road Safety Fund (VSF) set up by the Federal Ministry for Climate Protection, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology (BMK).

Computer-aided simulations carried out by TU Graz showed that drivers are much more likely to suffer serious head injuries if they are wearing a helmet that has already been damaged.

“If another impact occurs at the same place on the helmet, the risk of serious head injuries increases by up to 19 percent. The reason for this is that the foam structure inside the helmet deforms greatly to dissipate energy in the event of an impact. But this energy dissipation is only possible once,” said TU Graz scientists Desiree Kofler and Corina Klug from the Institute of Vehicle Safety. The tests show that the deformation also occurs when the helmet appears completely undamaged on the outside after an impact.

ÖAMTC technician Dominik Darnhofer said the optimal fit of a crash helmet is always extremely important.  “A helmet that is too loose or too tight offers inadequate protection against injury.”

Using the correct type of helmet was also important. For example, the researchers warned moped riders against wearing a motocross helmet instead of a moped helmet. “Such a helmet has a chin guard that extends forward to provide improved airflow when riding motocross. However, the tests and simulations showed that this chin guard acts like a lever and can promote the rotation of the helmet in the event of an impact. This resulted in greatly increased stress in the area of the cervical spine, especially if the helmet fits too closely.”

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