The development of the brain bucket


Safety helmets have been shown to reduce road fatalities.  A quick ‘Google’ returned, “Motorcyclists are at high risk in traffic crashes.  A 2008 systematic review examined studies on motorcycle riders who had crashed and looked at helmet use as an intervention.

The review concluded that helmets reduce the risk of head injury by around 69 percent and death by around 42 percent.”  These are statistics happily ignored by most of Thailand’s motorcycle riders, unfortunately.  Helmet use at Songkran would halve the annual fatality figures.

Guess whose helmet. Guess whose helmet.

The ultimate helmets are worn by F1 drivers, as the highest potential for injury lies there.  Although its fundamental shape may look very similar to those worn by drivers in the 1980s and even the 1970s, the underlying design and construction technology has changed radically over the years.

In 1985 a typical F1 helmet weighed around 2 kg.  That amount increased dramatically under high-G cornering or deceleration, adding to the risk of ‘whiplash’ type injuries in big accidents.  As head and neck trauma has been identified as the greatest single risk of injury to race drivers, helmet manufacturers place the greatest importance on reducing the mass of helmets, while increasing their strength and resistance to impacts.

Current F1 helmets are massively strong, and also considerably lighter, now weighing approximately 1.25 kg.  Helmets are constructed from several separate layers, offering a combination of strength and flexibility (vital to absorb the force of large impacts).  The outer shell has two layers, typically fiber-reinforced resin over carbon fiber.  Under that comes a layer formed of vastly strong plastic, the same material used in many bullet-proof vests.  Then there is a softer, deformable layer made from a plastic based on polystyrene, covered with the flame-proof material used in racing overalls and gloves.

The visor will be made of a special clear polycarbonate, combining excellent impact protection with flame resistance and excellent visibility.  Most drivers use tinted visors, the insides of which are coated with anti-fogging chemicals to prevent them misting up, particularly in wet conditions.

In recent seasons the actual shape of helmets has gradually evolved, as more aerodynamically efficient shapes are brought into use.  Sitting directly below the main engine air intake, helmets are increasingly shaped to assist in the process of reducing drag in this notoriously high-turbulence aerodynamic area.  The modern designs also reduce the lift produced by more traditionally shaped helmets – which can be anything up to 15 kg at racing speeds.

The helmet design must also provide ventilation for the driver. This is achieved through the use of big accidents , though in tropical Thailand I have never found they work too well.

As you would expect, the FIA have strict ‘super helmet’ requirements for F1 racing.  To gain approval for Grand Prix use, a helmet design must pass a number of tests, covering factors such as crush and penetration resistance and surface friction.  It must also work correctly in conjunction with the mandatory HANS (Head and Neck Support) device.

Top helmets here will set you back around 30,000 baht, but there are cheaper models available from good manufacturers.