Wearing a turban can offer similar protection to helmets, researchers find

The religious headwear was far superior to a bare head and could be made even more bike-safe, says new study

Study finds turbans offer considerable protection in cycle crashes
(Image credit: Getty Images / Narinder Nanu)

Turbans can offer comparable protection to bicycle helmets in some scenarios, a new study published today has found.

Researchers from Imperial College London and the Sikh Scientists Network used crash test dummies to test various styles of turban, before comparing the results against a conventional cycle helmet and also bare heads.

Five different types of turban using amounts of material in the Dastaar and Dumalla turban styles – the most common styles worn by Sikhs – were subjected to a variety of test measurements.

Researchers found that the turbans universally offered significantly better protection than a bare head against a skull fracture in a cycling-style crash. The protection level was not as high, however, as with a conventional cycle helmet. They also found that the style of turban had a considerable effect on the level of protection offered.

It was in protection against rotational injuries that turbans were found to be more comparable to the protection from helmets, with two styles even producing better average results than with a helmet. 

While the study suggests that overall protection is better from cycle helmets, researchers said there were steps that Sikhs could take to maximise their on-bike protection while wearing a turban. These include:

- Covering a larger area of the head with a thick layer of fabric

- Placing energy absorbing materials between the layers of the fabric to increase impact duration and reduce force, reducing the risk of skull fractures

- Reducing the friction between the layers of fabric to reduce the rotational force transmitted to the head, thus the risk of brain injuries

The study's co-author, Dr Gurpreet Singh, from the Sikh Scientists Network and Imperial’s Department of Materials, said: “Sikhs have earned the right to wear the sacred turban with pride for centuries now.

"However, being just 0.5% of the world population, very little has been done to scientifically empower Sikhs to continue practising their faith with advanced, protective materials that are in-line with their religious requirements.

"Due to a lack of research into advanced fabrics, Sikhs currently face varying degrees of risk. Our findings show that simple Sikh turbans have the potential to mitigate head impacts."

Ruth Purdie, the chief executive of the Road Safety Trust, which funded the research, said: “The findings of this study could really support Sikh cyclists and help reduce their risks of head injury.”

The research was undertaken with Rehat Maryada – the Code of Sikh Conduct and Conventions – in mind.

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