Helmets on skifields 'difficult to enforce'

By Mark Price

Mt Hutt skifield. Photo / Christchurch Star
Mt Hutt skifield. Photo / Christchurch Star

Making helmets compulsory on skifields would not significantly reduce either the number of injuries or costs to ACC, a University of Otago student researcher has concluded.

In the abstract of the paper published online by the university's Christchurch department of public health and general practice, Richard Vipond also says "helmets would not be effective in saving lives or preventing serious injury".

Last September, Christchurch coroner Richard McElrea recommended skiers and snowboarders wear helmets, but said making them mandatory would be difficult to enforce.

Mr McElrea was considering the deaths of three people who died in separate accidents on Mt Hutt skifield in 2010.

One was wearing a helmet, which came off, and two were not wearing helmets.

He considered that a "significant percentage" of skiers and snowboarders not wearing helmets was a "matter of major concern".

However, while the parents of one of the victims pressed for the mandatory wearing of helmets Mr McElrea considered this would be difficult to enforce.

In the US and some parts of Austria helmets must be worn by young people on skifields.

Mr Vipond told the Otago Daily Times said his research was still in progress and he did not want to be associated with any suggestion helmets were a "waste of time".

"The paper does not suggest that people should not wear helmets - just that making them mandatory should not be a government priority, given the fact that most head injuries in New Zealand are related to alcohol which could be a more appropriate focus for government intervention."

Mr Vipond found a lack of published research on helmets and a paucity of New Zealand data. His results showed helmets decreased the risk of head injury by 35 per cent but that the majority of the injuries prevented were minor cuts and grazes.

"Anthropomorphic device testing demonstrated that helmets are severely limited in their ability to prevent head injuries even at average speeds, or in children.

"Helmets also seem to provide little benefit in preventing serious injury or death, reflected by steady numbers of each per year in the USA, despite helmet-use nearly tripling over the last eight years.

"Fifty per cent of fatally wounded skiers/boarders in the USA in 2010 were wearing a helmet."

Mr Vipond said young men were the most likely to be injured on a skifield, and snowboarding was more likely than skiing to result in a head injury.

Head injuries made up 10 per cent of skifield injuries in the South Island.

The majority were minor and Mr Vipond said 42 per cent of people with a head injury from a skifield in 2010 were wearing a helmet at the time of their accident.

Mr Vipond considered skifield head injuries were not common enough to demand government intervention and suggested programmes to encourage the 40 per cent of people who did not wear helmets to adopt their use.

"While a helmet might not save your life - wearing one is a lot more clever than not wearing one."

- Otago Daily Times

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