April 2, 2016

Improved Helmets: Senseless article

Doing a bit more searching, previously I had stumbled across one article by Bike Magazine Australia entitled “Lifting The Lid”.

I did try to get in touch with the author via the email link on the website, but heard nothing. However, it appears, that article is a reprint of this article , which was published by Bicycling magazine in June 2013. I thought it might’ve been older than that.

There’s also a furious rebuttal by the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute. Well lets face it, being provocative helps magazines sell sometimes, although it pays to not be too provocative.

However, I feel the author has a point, even if he gets some details wrong.

It appears that the AIM system mentioned in the article is still in its prototype stage. I doubt this one is royalty free, but for sure it’ll be one to watch, owing to its safety features, and the fact that it’s a very different construction, should make for a cooler helmet to wear in summer.

Improved Helmets: Catalyst: Motorcycle Clothing

My father just spotted this television program segment regarding the safety of motorcycle clothing, in relation to thermal management .

They tested two factors, one was how well the clothing managed the wearer’s temperature, and also how well they protected the wearer. Interestingly, there is no Australian Standard regarding protective gear other than the helmet. Gear sold here typically comes with tags citing the CE standard.

Apparently, a lot of gear out there is not fit for purpose, with the more popular clothing being totally inappropriate in our hotter climate, and materials like “ballistic nylon do very poorly for abrasion protection (leather and denim do better). The poor thermal management contributes to heat stress, and the poor design decisions sometimes leave the wearer with a false sense of security.

I suppose it’s worth pointing out what I look like when I go out on the road. This is me wheeling the bike out one afternoon to head home from work.

That’s a cheapo $60 motorcycle helmet (I have never trusted bicycle helmets), and fairly lightweight overalls. Not what you want to try out at 60km/hr on a bitumen road, but I feel is a reasonable balance between thermal management, visibility and protectiveness on a bicycle. A MAMIL I am not!

My commute is about an hour, and involves two biggish hills. Yes, I sweat a bit, particularly my head, but when going long distances, I often take short breaks for a minute.

Riding from my home at The Gap in Brisbane’s north west, to Rochedale in the far South East, a journey of about 40km, I’ll typically stop once when I get to South Bank for a drink, then again near Holland Park, then I reach my destination. I’ve done this in the summer heat without issue. Then again, I’ll be riding at maybe 20km/hr most of the time, which requires less concentration. I find I’m still able to think clearly much of the time.

A loss of concentration on a motorcycle could be fatal due to the higher speeds typically involved. Reaction times are crucial there.

Helmets are typically made from expanded polystyrene foam, the same material used in eskys. In the former case, it is chosen because it crushes. In the latter, it’s for its thermal insulation properties. The head radiates the most heat in humans, and so is a prime candidate for thermal management.

It’s factors like this that make me wonder what came of that AIM prototype helmet design mentioned in the ” Lifting the Lid ” article. Being an aluminium honeycomb would make it more like wearing a heat-sink, an interesting concept that ought to make it cooler. Could this be adapted for motorcycles? I guess we’ll have to find out.

Improved Helmets: Digging into existing reports

Well, after my last couple of emails, I’ve been pointed to some rather interesting reports that peek into the area of interest.

Robin Guda at the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare was able to point me to ” Trends in serious injury due to road vehicle traffic crashes, Australia: 2001 to 2010 ” which sheds a light on serious injuries (requiring hospitalisation) from road accidents, where the patient survived. She was also able to provide a link to where I can request further information . There’s a fee involved in the latter case, but I do not mind paying a smallish amount of money for such information, alternatively, crowd-funding might be an option.

Both of these are a big help, and that article is raising some interesting questions.

One thing that stuck out was this passage (page 8):

Rates of life-threatening cases involving motorcycle riders and pedal cycle riders rose significantly over this period, with average annual increases of 5.2% and 7.5% respectively. Rates of cases involving passengers of motor vehicles and pedestrians fell, with average annual decreases of 1.2% and 1.0% respectively.

Injuries per registered motorcycle did not change much from 2001 to 2010, suggesting that the rise in population-based rates is largely due to growth in the number of motorcycles in use.

Now, due to the fact we do not have bicycle registration here in Australia, we cannot come up with a hard equivalent statistic for bicycles. Two groups I might be able to approach to get some sort of approximate figure though:

  • Peak bicycle bodies, e.g. Bicycle Queensland — who may be able to give me rough figures on the trends in membership over that period.
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics, who do the national census. One of the questions they ask is “how did you get to work that day”, so there’d be a figure there for the number of people cycling to work.

Another prospect might be to see if I can get similar stats out of China. They have a big population, many of whom ride bicycles/motorcycles, and even their bicycles are registered.

Meanwhile, Angela Watson was in touch from CARRS-Q, and was able to shed some light also. One article she posted through was ” Fatal Road Traffic Accidents, Study of Distribution, Nature and Type of Injury “.

This, in contrast to the above AIHW report, looks at accidents where the victim died within 21 days of the accident, for accidents that took place in India between December 2003 and November 2004. India have somewhat different road and safety standards to Australia, and a much bigger population. Table 6 on page 3 gives the stats for avulsion injury (that is, things getting torn off) to contre-coup injuries, cyclists and motorcyclists made up about 7% of cases there in total, with pedestrians ruling the roost.

They note there in the introduction that a big factor here is poor pedestrian infrastructure in India. If we take pedestrians out, the number rises to 7 out of 24 cases, or 29%. Probably a big portion of those were not wearing helmets, but that is pure speculation on my part.

Two other articles Angela sent through, which I’m yet to study in depth are ” Mechanisms of Head and Neck Injuries Sustainedby Helmeted Motorcyclists in Fatal Real-World Crashes:Analysis of 47 In-Depth Cases ” and ” Bicycle helmets are highly effective at preventing head injury during head impact: Head-form accelerations and injury criteria for helmeted and unhelmeted impacts “.

I will certainly have a look at these.

A very valid point was raised though regarding the availability of raw data. Much of the medical type data is heavily guarded for privacy and ethical reasons, and so getting near it may prove to be difficult. In addition, there appears to be no linkage between the stats on road accidents, and the stats on injuries.

Traffic bodies like the Queensland Department of Main Roads are mostly not concerned with details like injuries sustained, and groups like Queensland Health are mostly not concerned about whether the person was wearing a particular model helmet or whether they hit a car bonnet or a bridge railing.

A sub-area of research for me will be to get to understand the classifications for these injury types, which are covered by the ICD-10-AM standard. This is no freebie however, unlike the Australian Standards, which SAI Global sell for about $50 a piece (and I got for free when I was studying at QUT), I haven’t been able to get pricing on the ICD-10-AM standard. I guess we’ll create an account there, and ask the silly question.

The ideal situation for me would be to borrow a copy for a short period and make a note of the relevant codes. I don’t need a permanent copy. Russel suggested a couple of them in a comment a few days ago, so that’s a starting point.

In short, the road ahead is becoming a little clearer, and it’s going to be a long one. Good thing I’m not gunning for the 2016 Hackaday prize, as I’ll almost certainly not have it done by the due date.