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Ski helmets don't save lives, researchers say
By SUSAN KUSHNER RESNICK -- The Providence Journal it came to be assumed that helmets save lives.

It turns out, they don't, according to researchers who've been studying ski injuries in Vermont for more than 30 years.

"I think they're being overemphasized and better skiing behavior is the better answer than putting a helmet on," says Dr. Robert Johnson, an orthopedic surgeon in Vermont and director of the long-term study on skiing injuries at Sugarbush Mountain in Vermont. "I'm concerned that there's no hard evidence that helmets prevent massive head injuries."

... His research shows that helmets protect only people moving 14 mph or slower. The average ski or snowboard speed is 27 mph, he reports.

...his research shows, helmets may give people a false sense of security and even lead to more severe injuries.

Jasper E. Shealy, professor emeritus of industrial engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology, in Rochester, N.Y., also worked on the Sugarbush study. He explains that something called risk compensation leads people to act more recklessly when they believe they're protected.

"Would you be more likely to build a house on a flood plain if you could get insurance? The answer is yes," he says. "Cars equipped with antilock brakes are more likely to be involved in (single-car) crashes. The antilock brakes alter your behavior."

...Shealy says a helmet that would protect you in a crash while skiing 30 mph would need to be 7 inches thick and weigh 10 to 12 pounds. "It would literally be sitting on your shoulders," he says.

Using speed guns at Sugarbush, the researchers found that people wearing helmets ski 3 mph faster than those without. And they found that skiers wearing helmets had worse concussions than those who didn't.
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