Debate in Charlottesville Over Safety of Bicycle Helmets

Countney Stuart of The Hook has an interesting article here about a proposed new safety ordinance in Charlottesville — mandating the use of bicycle helmets for all City riders age 14 and under.  A new twist has emerged in the debate about the ordinance, primarily because at least one vocal opponent suggests the research supporting the effectiveness of helmets is outdated and inaccurate.  And this opponent does not appear to be a slouch — he is a member of the American Society of Safety Engineers and was formerly employed as a Safety Officer with the Navy.

In addition to the claim that helmeted riders tend to take more risks, the opponent’s main objection is that helmets may “dig in” on impact, which can increase the risk of paralysis from an accident.  When a helmet digs into the ground on impact, a rotational injury — one in which the brain rotates or spins within the skull — may result.  According to some research, the direct forces in an accident may be transferred into a rotational force by the bike helment, causing a rotational injury that tears at the veins in the brain and may cause, among other things, a diffuse axonal injury and subdural hematoma.   

Despite the debate, it is hard to overcome the obvious visible protection a helmet can offer to a skull, particularly a young child’s.  Brain injuries are serious injuries and more research needs to be done on this important point to reach some conclusions on how to prevent these types of injuries.

Robert E. Byrne, Jr., the author of this post, is the managing attorney of MartinWren, P.C. and represents, among others, injured clients in personal injury actions as a member of MartinWren’s Virginia Personal Injury Lawyers group and Charlottesville Personal Injury Lawyers group, including injured clients as a member of the Virginia Traumatic Brain Injury Attorneys group.  For more information about this subject or to speak with Bob about a potential case, please contact Bob at 434-817-3100 or by email at

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