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Lawrence of Arabia and the Crash Helmet

T.E. Lawrence was a British archaeologist and war hero who became known as Lawrence of Arabia. But his life was cut short only two months after retiring from the military. Lawrence was riding his motorcycle in Dorset and crashed while trying to avoid a collision with some children on bicycles. He died of brain injuries six days later in May of 1935. He was only 46.

However, Lawrence’s death set off a chain of events that saved many other lives. One of the physicians that attended him during those six days was Hugh Cairns, who wondered if a crash helmet might have saved his life. It seems obvious now, but in 1935, there were no statistics to back up that theory. So Cairns went to work finding them. He published his first findings in 1941. In one 21-month period, 1884 motorcyclist were killed on British roads, and two-thirds of them suffered head injuries.

"There can be little doubt that many patients in this series would have lived if their heads had been adequately protected," he wrote.

His biggest problem, he conceded, was finding enough riders who did wear helmets voluntarily to show it made a difference. Cairns could only gather evidence from seven riders wearing helmets who were involved in accidents. All survived.

"In all of them the head injury was mild, though in four there had been considerable damage to the crash helmet," he wrote.

The British military took Cairns’ findings seriously, and were the first to require riders to wear helmets. That set the stage for Cairns to collect more data. You can read the rest of the story, and the astounding difference helmets have made since then, at BBC magazine. -via Digg


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