Lawrence of Arabia is dead, long live the crash helmet

I just found this fascinating article from a 2002 edition of Neurosurgery that tells how a brain surgeon who unsuccesfully operated on Lawrence of Arabia after his fatal motorcyle crash was inspired to research and design crash helmets that now save thousands of lives.

T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, was a hero of the First World War who worked as a covert agent leading a revolt against the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East and was immortalised in the 1962 film.

Lawrence was also a fan of motorbikes. In fact, he’s pictured on one in the image on the left. Sadly, his interest eventually led to his death after a motorcycle crash in Dorset.

The Neurosurgery article tells the story of Hugh Cairns, a young neurosurgeon who attempted unsuccessfully to save Lawrence’s life as part of the surgical team who treated him.

His experience led him to research the benefits of early crash helmets on Army motorcycle riders during the Second World War, finding that they were one of the major life-saving factors.

He later went on to use his knowledge of how the brain becomes damaged during impact to design and test various types of crash helmet that could best protect against these forms of injury.

Cairns’ work was a major influence on both the legal system, that has mandated helmets in many countries, and the design of the headgear itself – preventing thousands of fatal brain injuries in the process.

Link to article on Lawrence, Cairns and the origin of crash helmets.
Link to PubMed entry for article.

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