The new study group will be made up of scientists from twenty countries and will focus on the engineering of bicycle helmets as well as the effectiveness - or otherwise - of mandatory helmet law. Recommendations from the study group will feed into EU standards and could help influence legislators.
One of the co-founders of the group is Ian Walker, a professor at the University of Bath. He teaches statistics and traffic psychology and is the scientist who, in 2006, caused worldwide controversy by using video footage to claim that motorists drive closer to cyclists who wear helmets (and further away from women).
The new project, COST Actions, which has just received funding from the European Science Foundation, is run under the aegis of the European Cooperation in Science and Technology: COST for short.
Walker was one of been involved in the previous COST Actions helmet projects, for motorcycle helmets.
COST327 and COST357 led to projects such as MAIDS: Motorcycle Accidents In Depth Study, and it's expected cycling will get an equivalent to this EU-wide study.
COST Actions is funded via the European Science Foundation through a European Commission contract. The remit for the bicycle helmet COST is broad, taking in many different angles. Helmet manufacturers across the globe will be interested to learn that COST thinks "helmet design is suboptimal."
Those in favour of mandatory helmet wearing won't like the COST statement that "there are strong indications that law-mediated increases of helmet usage for cyclists cause confounding factors which temper the positive effect of these helmets on head and brain injury."
Walker told BikeBiz: "COST Actions tend to feed into European standards, which is a valuable part of their role as not only do they provide a pan-European perspective on the issues involved, but they involve a lot of impartial scientists and are unlikely to be swayed by manufacturers' lobbying."
COST Actions does not funding original research but facilitates meetings and cooperation between far-flung researchers in order to share knowledge and plan research.
The engineering part of the project incorporates impact engineering, and thermal comfort and physiological effects of heat. There are also two other working groups on traffic psychology, and accident statistics.
Helmet manufacturers will be able to join the group.