COMMENT & ANALYSIS: A bizarre detail was included in a civil court case against a man who was convicted in 2015 of dangerous driving causing serious harm when his van hit a cyclist — the man on the bicycle was left with a traumatic brain injury and it was reported that his “life and future had been destroyed” but was deemed to be 20% at fault for not wearing a helmet.
“In November 2015, Dylan Meade was jailed for one year after he pleaded guilty before Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to dangerous driving causing serious harm, failing to stop after an accident, driving without a licence and driving without insurance at the Ongar Distribution Road, Blanchardstown, Dublin on August 2 2013.”
The case for damages in the High Court last week was against the driver of the van Dylan Meade, An Cosan, Lisbrack Road, Longford, Co Longford and the owner of the vehicle Sabrina McDonagh also of An Cosan, Lisbrack Road, Longford and the Motor Insurers’ Bureau of Ireland over the collision at a junction of the Ongar Distributor Road and Shelerin Road, Blanchardstown, Dublin on August 2, 2013.
The reports also cover how the man on the bicycle, Alexandru Martin Doroscan, suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was thrown eight feet in the air after he was hit by a van.
There was an agreed €3 million settlement, but Doroscan’s legal team told the judge that whilethe other side in the case had conceded liability, it was except for the fact that Doroscan was not wearing a cycle helmet.
They said that while a helmet was not legally required it had to be taken into account in the assessment of damages. The judge was told the lack of helmet wearing would account for about 20% contributory negligence on the part of Doroscan.
But not only are helmets not legally required, helmets are also subject to major scientific debate. And those questioning helmets aren’t quacks but include those who often fight against quackery. Like Ben Goldacre, an epidemiologist who is known for his Bad Science book and column in The Guardian. His battles include fighting against dodgy drug trials, homoeopathy and poor peer review processes.
Writing in the British Medical Journal in 2013, Goldacre, a Wellcome research fellow in epidemiology, and David Spiegelhalter, Winton professor for the public understanding of risk, said: “…with case-control studies, many of which have shown that people wearing helmets are less likely to have a head injury. Such findings suggest that, for individuals, helmets confer a benefit. These studies, however, are vulnerable to many methodological shortcomings.”
The pair concluded: “In any case, the current uncertainty about any benefit from helmet wearing or promotion is unlikely to be substantially reduced by further research.”
Meanwhile, there seems to be a growing understanding that helmets cannot prevent concussions — which can lead to a traumatic brain injury, as is relevant in the Blanchardstown case.
This is explained in fairly easy-to-understand terms in a TedTalk by David Camarillo, an Assistant Professor of Bioengineering and Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University:
Camarillo holds a B.S.E in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from Princeton University, and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford. While Goldacre is Senior Clinical Research Fellow at the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine in the Department of Primary Care in the University of Oxford, and a Research Fellow in Epidemiology at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Epidemiology is the study of the distribution and determinants of health-related states or events in specified populations, and the application of this study to the control of health problems.
Basicly Camarillo is well-placed to know about the mechanics of the brain and helmets, while Goldacre’s profession puts him in a good place to analyse a wider picture than a trauma doctor in an A&E department (the kind of people we’re often told are shocked that people don’t wear helmets).
The “vulnerable to many methodological shortcomings” in pro-helmet studies are compounded by those studies mixing higher speed leisure and racing cycling with cycling to the shops or a average commuting cycle and by the fact that many of the studies are just reviews of previously flawed studies.
The overall body of science is far from approving of helmets and, so, it would be hard to prove one could have helped Doroscan. So, the question is, why are we allowing bad science into our court rooms?
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