Why Bicycle Helmet Safety is for Every Family Member
By Lydia Evans, MD
“Do as I say, not as I do” is an idiom that’s fodder for endless sarcastic remarks. It is clear that one of the most effective teaching tools parents have is modeling behavior. So I am totally flummoxed when I ride my bike on our beautiful local bike trails and see families out for a weekend ride.Why flummoxed? Because children, dutifully wearing their helmets, ride along wheeling and squealing, with their helmet-less parents trailing behind.
New York State requires helmets for riders under 14, but sadly, no such requirement exists for adults.
While statistics vary slightly depending on the source (U.S. Dept, of Transportation, NY State & the CDC), pedal cyclists deaths nationally range from 625-825 annually; over 500,000 injured require emergency medical attention. The vast majority of deaths (85-90%) occur in individuals 16 and older. In 2009, 91% of bicyclists killed were not wearing helmets. The most serious injuries amongst these victims were to the head. The estimated cost of caring for the injured, unhelmeted cyclists is $2.3 billion annually.
So what happens when you hit your unprotected head? While the skull is fairly strong and hard, the brain is soft (almost jello-like), and floats in cerebral spinal fluid. Inside the skull are many sharp ridges and edges.
When the head is hit, injury occurs as the brain is propelled back and forth against these protuberances (even if the skull itself is not fractured). The end result? Bruising and bleeding in the brain, and destruction of irreplaceable nerve cells.
I have ridden bicycles since childhood (yep, the classic picture of my poor father running alongside, holding onto the back of my seat until I finally “got it.”) I have suffered my share of road rash, but my helmeted head has remained unscathed. Bicycle falls are not just from motor vehicle collisions. An unseen small stone, wet leaves, or a tiny surface crack can send you and your bike flying. It only takes a second of inattention (“Oh, look at the deer,” and “What did you say, honey?”) and bang, you are on the ground.
So why doesn’t everyone wear a helmet? Some adults tell me that they “know how to ride” and won’t fall on the motorless bike path. Any experienced cyclist will tell you that this is a fallacy. I believe the main problem is that helmets can initially seem a little annoying. So is wearing a seatbelt or using sunscreen.But these minor inconveniences can all save your life. So please buckle up! This time…under your chin.
Dr. Lydia Evans has a private practice, specializing in both cosmetic and medical dermatology, in Chappaqua. Her last biking trip was with her husband through the back roads of southern Spain.