How Does Wearing a Helmet Protect Your Brain?

July 3, 2024 | David Abels
How Does Wearing a Helmet Protect Your Brain?

Your brain is your most precious asset. It controls your entire body—every thought, feeling, and action. But it's also incredibly vulnerable, especially to a bicycle or motorcycle accident. In a split second, a crash can cause a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that alters the course of your life forever.

The good news? There's a simple, proven way to protect your brain in the event of an accident: wearing a helmet. Helmets are specifically designed and engineered to minimize the risk of serious head and brain injuries during impacts. They're not just a smart choice—they're necessary for anyone who rides a bike or motorcycle.

In this post, we'll dive into the science behind how helmets safeguard your brain and explore the devastating consequences that can result from not wearing one. We'll also discuss what to do if you or a loved one has suffered a TBI in a bicycle or motorcycle crash, including how a brain injury lawyer can help you seek the compensation you deserve.

Whether you're a seasoned rider or just starting out, this information could be the difference between life and death. Your brain is too important to take chances with—so let's explore how a helmet can be its ultimate protector.


The Dangers of Bicycle and Motorcycle Accidents

A helmet on the road after a  car collides with a motorcycle

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bicyclists face a higher risk of crash-related injuries and deaths than occupants of motor vehicles. In one recent year, over 1,260 bicyclists were killed in traffic crashes in the United States. Similarly, the National Safety Council reports that motorcyclists are about 27 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a crash per mile traveled.

Both bicycle and motorcycle riders lack the external protection that a car provides. When a collision happens, the rider's head is vulnerable to forceful impacts with hard surfaces like the ground, vehicles, or objects along the road. The head and brain are particularly susceptible to severe and potentially life-altering injuries.

How Helmets Protect the Brain

This is where wearing a properly fitted helmet comes in. Helmets reduce the risk of serious head and brain injuries during impacts.

Helmets primarily protect the brain in two key ways:

  • Reducing the impact force: A helmet's outer shell consists of tough polycarbonate plastic. When your head strikes a surface during a crash, this sturdy outer shell helps distribute impact force over a broader area. This reduces the direct force applied to any single spot on the skull, which could otherwise cause a skull fracture or localized brain injury.
  • Absorbing the impact energy: Underneath the outer shell is a thick layer of firm foam, usually expanded polystyrene (EPS). This layer cushions the head and absorbs a significant portion of the impact energy during a crash. As the foam compresses and deforms, it dissipates the force that would otherwise be transmitted directly to the brain. This action decreases the risk of the brain hitting the inside of the skull with high force, minimizing the potential for a concussion or more severe TBI.

The combination of the tough outer shell spreading the impact force and the cushioning inner layer absorbing the energy dramatically lessens the risk and severity of head and brain trauma. While no helmet can prevent all injuries, research consistently shows that wearing one significantly reduces the chances of skull fractures, serious brain injuries, and death.

Traumatic Brain Injuries in Bicycle and Motorcycle Accidents

A TBI is a disruption in normal brain function caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head. The most common type of TBI suffered in bicycle and motorcycle crashes is a concussion.

Concussions occur when the impact causes the brain to move quickly back and forth inside the skull, leading to stretching and damaging brain cells and changes in brain chemistry.

Concussion symptoms can include:

  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Memory or concentration problems

While people can fully recover from most concussions, some can suffer lingering symptoms that interfere with daily life.

More severe TBIs, like brain contusions (bruising) or hemorrhages (bleeding), can occur in high-energy impacts, especially if the rider is not wearing a helmet. These injuries may cause loss of consciousness, seizures, slurred speech, weakness or numbness, profound confusion, agitation, and even coma. Severe TBIs often lead to long-term impairments in brain function and can be fatal.

Studies have shown that wearing a helmet reduces the risk of head injury by nearly 70% and the risk of death by over 40% for bicyclists. For motorcyclists, helmets are about 37% effective in preventing death and 67% effective in preventing brain injuries.

The Importance of Contacting a Lawyer After a Bicycle or Motorcycle Crash

If a bicycle or motorcycle accident injured you or a loved one, prioritize health and safety first. Seek immediate medical attention, even if you initially feel okay, as some head injuries may not present symptoms right away. Be sure to follow all treatment recommendations from healthcare professionals.

If another person's negligence caused the accident, consulting an experienced personal injury lawyer should be your next step. Crashes that result in TBIs or other serious injuries often lead to substantial medical bills, lost income from missed work, pain and suffering, and a reduced quality of life. Insurance companies may try to settle quickly and for less than you deserve.

A skilled personal injury attorney can investigate the accident, gather evidence, handle communications and negotiations with insurers, and fight for the full and fair compensation you're owed. If a fair settlement can't be reached, they can represent you in court to protect your rights.

Choosing the right lawyer is key. Look for an attorney who has specific experience handling bicycle and motorcycle accident cases involving brain injuries. They will understand these claims' unique challenges and the types of experts needed to prove liability and damages, such as accident reconstructionists, neurologists, and life care planners.

Most reputable personal injury lawyers offer free initial consultations and work on a contingency fee basis, meaning they only get paid if they recover money for you. This allows you to seek justice and compensation without upfront costs.

Types of Helmets and How to Choose the Right One

Choose a helmet specifically designed for your type of riding that fits properly and meets the necessary safety standards. Let's explore the different types of helmets available and how to select the best one for your needs.

Bicycle Helmets vs. Motorcycle Helmets

While both bicycle and motorcycle helmets are designed to protect your head, they have some key differences. Bicycle helmets are generally lighter, more ventilated, and cover less of the head compared to motorcycle helmets. They are designed to protect against impacts from falls or collisions with vehicles, but not the high-speed crashes that motorcyclists may experience.

Motorcycle helmets, on the other hand, are heavier, sturdier, and provide more coverage for the head and face. They are built to withstand higher impact forces and often include features like face shields or visors to protect against wind, debris, and UV rays.

Helmet Styles and Features

Numerous bicycle and motorcycle helmets come with their own features and benefits.

Bicycle helmet styles include:

  • Road helmets: Lightweight, aerodynamic, and well-ventilated for long rides and races
  • Mountain bike helmets: Offer more coverage and protection for off-road riding, often with visors and adjustable mounts for lights or cameras
  • Commuter helmets: Blend style and functionality for everyday urban riding, sometimes with integrated lights or reflective elements

Motorcycle helmet styles include:

  • Full-face helmets: Provide the most coverage and protection with a chin bar and visor
  • Modular helmets: Feature a flip-up chin bar for increased versatility and convenience
  • Open-face helmets: Cover the top and back of the head but leave the face exposed, popular among scooter riders and cruisers
  • Half helmets: Offer minimal coverage, protecting only the top of the head, not recommended for maximum safety

Ensuring Proper Fit and Safety Standards

A helmet can only provide optimal protection if it fits correctly.

When trying on helmets:

  • Measure your head circumference to determine your size
  • Try on multiple sizes and brands to find the best fit
  • Ensure the helmet sits level on your head, not tilted back or forward
  • Adjust the straps and buckle so the helmet feels snug but not too tight
  • Check that the helmet doesn't move or wobble when you shake your head

Finally, always look for helmets that meet the relevant safety standards. For bicycle helmets, this means looking for a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) certification sticker. Motorcycle helmets should meet the Department of Transportation (DOT) standards, indicated by a DOT sticker on the back of the helmet.

Even better: Look for Snell Foundation certification, which sets higher standards for helmets than the DOT.

Common Myths and Misconceptions About Helmets

Despite the clear evidence that helmets save lives and prevent serious brain injuries, some people still hesitate to wear them while riding bicycles or motorcycles. This reluctance often stems from common myths and misconceptions about helmets. Let's address some of these mistaken beliefs and set the record straight.

Myth 1: Helmets are uncomfortable.

Fact: Modern helmets are designed with comfort in mind. They are lightweight, well-ventilated, and often feature adjustable sizing and padding to ensure a snug, comfortable fit. Many riders quickly adapt to wearing a helmet and hardly notice it after a short time.

Myth 2: Helmets don't look good.

Fact: While style preferences are subjective, helmet manufacturers now offer many designs, colors, and patterns to suit individual tastes. From sleek and sporty to cool and casual, there's a helmet to match every rider's personal style. Remember, safety should always come first—a helmet can save your life and help you maintain your active lifestyle.

Myth 3: Helmets aren't necessary for short rides.

Fact: Accidents can happen anywhere, anytime, regardless of the distance or duration of your ride. In fact, most bicycle accidents occur close to home, on familiar roads, and during short trips. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 32% of bicyclist deaths in a recent year occurred on minor roads, and 35% occurred in intersections. No matter how brief your ride may be, wearing a helmet is always essential for protecting your brain.

Myth 4: Wearing a helmet won't make a difference in a serious crash.

Fact: While no helmet can prevent all injuries in every situation, research consistently shows that wearing a helmet significantly reduces the risk and severity of head and brain injuries in crashes.

The International Journal of Epidemiology found that cyclists who wore helmets had a 69% lower risk of head injury and a 42% lower risk of death than those who didn't wear helmets. Even in serious accidents, a helmet can be the difference between life and death or between a mild concussion and a severe TBI.

Don't let myths and misconceptions deter you from wearing a helmet every time you ride. The facts are clear: helmets are a proven, effective way to safeguard your brain and reduce your risk of a life-altering injury in a bicycle or motorcycle accident. Embrace helmet-wearing as an essential part of your riding routine—your brain will thank you.

The Importance of Wearing a Helmet Every Time You Ride

Wearing a Helmet

No one ever expects to be in a crash when they hop on their bike or motorcycle. But accidents can happen in the blink of an eye, even to the most careful riders. Wearing a helmet is the single most effective way to protect your brain if the unthinkable occurs.

Be sure your helmet meets the safety standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for bicycles or the Department of Transportation (DOT) for motorcycles. Replace your helmet if it's damaged or has been involved in a crash, as its ability to protect your head may be compromised.

If you have children who bike, insist they wear helmets every time they ride. Set a good example by always wearing one yourself. Teach them from a young age that a helmet is a necessity, not an accessory.

Contact the TBI Lawyers at Abels & Annes, P.C.

A helmet is your first line of defense against devastating head and brain injuries if you're ever in a bicycle or motorcycle accident. By distributing and absorbing impact forces, helmets greatly reduce the risk of skull fractures, concussions, and more severe TBIs. Always wear one when you ride to give yourself the best chance of walking away from a crash with minimal injury.

If you or someone you love has suffered a TBI in a bicycle or motorcycle accident caused by someone else's negligence, don't hesitate to contact an experienced personal injury lawyer. They can help you understand your rights and options for seeking the compensation you need and deserve to move forward after a life-changing injury.

Contact the Chicago personal injury lawyers at Abels & Annes, P.C., today at (312) 924-7575 or through our online form to discuss your case during a free consultation.

David Abels Author Image

David Abels


David Abels has carved a niche for himself in the personal injury law sector, dedicating a substantial part of his career since 1997 to representing victims of various accidents. With a law practice that spans over two decades, his expertise has been consistently recognized within the legal community.

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