Polystyrene deflects a bullet? Bunkum!

Bike helmets are great. They can prevent some injuries. I wear mine whenever on a bike but I don’t fool myself into thinking the darn thing will save my life should I be hit by a speeding car. Bike lids just aren’t designed for that sort of crash.

But stories about amazing escapes continue to pollute the mass media. Last year The Sun carried a story about an 11-year old girl who went under the wheels of a car. The newspaper showed the smashed pieces of the helmet which she believes saved her life. If her head was in that smashed helmet at the time her head would have been smashed, too. It’s far more likely that the helmet came off before being crushed by the car. Very few children wear properly fitting helmets. Most kid lids can be flicked off with ease, negating any safety benefits.

Smashed helmets are not evidence that heads would have otherwise been smashed: helmets are designed to break on impact. Properly fitted, they absorb some of the energy of a crash. At slow speeds.

Polystyrene cannot absorb the energy from a full-on car or truck smash. Nor can polystyrene deflect a bullet shot at close-range – or long-range for that matter. But that’s what this North Carolina TV station is claiming.

The headline is: “Father On Bicycle Shot at in Asheville, Helmet Saves His Life”

Investigators said the gunfire erupted…when Alan Ray Simmons was riding his bike with his wife and 3-year-old son. They say a man approached Simmons upset that he was riding with his child in a bicycle seat in a high traffic area.

Authorities said Charles Diez was the man who stopped Simmons. They said both men got into an argument and that Diez pulled out a handgun and shot at Simmons.

They said the bullet struck Simmons helmet, passing through the lining, but stopping short of hitting him in the head. Diez is being held in the Buncombe County Jail on a $500,000 bond.

Buncombe County? That’s appropriate. Buncombe County is the source for the Americanism for ‘claptrap’.

In 1820, Felix Walker, who represented Buncombe County, North Carolina, in the U.S. House of Representatives, rose to address the question of admitting Missouri as a free or slave state. This was his first attempt to speak on this subject after nearly a month of solid debate and right before the vote was to be called. Allegedly, to the exasperation of his colleagues, Walker insisted on delivering a long and wearisome “speech for Buncombe.” He was shouted down by his colleagues. His persistent effort made “buncombe” (later respelled “bunkum”) a synonym for meaningless political claptrap and later for any kind of nonsense.