"Sikh turbans have the potential to mitigate head impacts."
Scientists have found that turbans can protect against head injuries almost as well as bicycle helmets.
Researchers at Imperial College London say Sikh cyclists may be saved from a severe head injury if they crash while wearing their traditional headwear.
The turban already provides good protection from impacts and researchers believe their findings may help engineers to develop lightweight protective fabric hats.
In the UK, turban-wearing Sikhs are exempt from wearing bike and motorcycle helmets.
Dr Gurpreet Singh, of Imperial College’s Department of Materials and the Sikh Scientists Network, 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.
“This provides important evidence that we hope will point the wider scientific community to invest in the best headgear fabrics to absorb shock, which indeed will open commercial markets to people from all walks of life that deal with concussions and head impacts.”
Using crash test dummy heads, five different turbans were tested, with two wrapping styles and two different fabrics.
These were compared with conventional helmets and bare heads.
Researchers found that turbans significantly reduced the risk of skull fractures in areas covered with a thick layer of fabric, compared to bare heads.
The style of turban also affected the risk of head injury.
For impacts to the front of the head, the Dastaar style with 3-metre long and 2-metre wide Rubia Voile fabric performed the best, with a 23% reduction in the force compared to the worst-performing turban style.
For impacts to the side of the head, the Dumalla style with 10-metre long and 1-metre wide Full Voile fabric was the best, with a 50% reduction in the force compared to the worst-performing turban style.
Although the risk of skull fractures and brain injuries was higher with all turbans than bicycle helmets, the risk might be reduced using these recommendations:
- 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.
Lead author Dr Mazdak Ghajari said:
“From our previous work, we have a good understanding of which types of impacts are common in cyclists and how we should assess the efficacy of head protection equipment in the lab.
“This project was a great opportunity for us to apply our expertise to empower Sikhs to protect themselves from head injury.”
There are plans to use the findings to develop a force-absorbing turban material to offer turban-wearing Sikhs better head protection.
It could also be used to benefit Sikhs in other areas where protective headwear is worn.
Ruth Purdie OBE, Chief Executive of The Road Safety Trust, which funded the research, said:
“Cyclists are classed as vulnerable road users, and therefore it is important to think about different ways to improve their safety.
“The findings of this study could really support Sikh cyclists and help reduce their risks of head injury.”