The value of bike helmets |

The value of bike helmets

Drew Werner

Someone close to me was attending the birthday party of her 16-year-old nephew. It was a beautiful spring day in Upstate New York, the perfect time to watch him grin from ear to ear as he was given his new mountain bike.

After the teen made a few laps around the driveway and manicured lawn, his dad decided that he would like to give the new bike a try. The grass was thick and the dad just knew he didn’t need a helmet. Besides, he was only riding around the house.

As the whole family watched, this proud father somehow slipped and fell off the bike onto the lawn. No one saw the root of the maple tree brushing up against the beautiful lawn. His forehead was crushed. Eight months later, having never regained consciousness, he died.

Some things, like the importance of wearing a bike helmet, need repeating because tragedy can occur all too fast.

It is amazing the number of people I see riding bicycles without helmets and risking forever changing their life (and the lives of their family members). I tell my young patients all the time, “We can fix broken bones and we can fix cuts and scrapes, but we can’t fix broken heads.” That is a simple truth, but it is all too easy to get seduced into that dangerous attitude of “it won’t happen to me.”

According to Webster’s, an accident is “an unpleasant and unintended happening, sometimes resulting from negligence, that results in injury, loss or damage.” I’ve never been witness to a pleasant or intended bicycle accident.

That’s why helmets are so important. While our brains are protected in our generally hard heads, we shouldn’t be hard headed. A blow to the head as from a bike accident results in significant forces to our brains, causing them to literally bounce around in our skulls. The resulting injury can be as mild as a bruise (or concussion) or as severe as a tearing of fragile blood vessels (intracranial hemorrhage). Either injury can have far-reaching and permanent consequences.

Here are some numbers to consider:

There are 85 million bicycle riders in the U.S.

About 800 bicyclists die in the U.S. every year.

About 550,000 bicyclists visit emergency rooms with injuries every year.

One in eight of the cyclists with reported injuries has a brain injury.

Two-thirds of the deaths are from traumatic brain injuries.

A helmet can prevent 88 percent of cyclists’ brain injuries.

About half of the deaths are children under 15 years old.

Prevention is the best medicine. So, what helmet should you get? First, check to make sure it meets U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) bike helmet standard. It is law now for every helmet made after 1999 to meet the CPSC standard. While the CPSC is the benchmark, ASTM and Snell B-90 and B-95 are similar standards.

The next most important thing is fit. Many sizes are available for riders of almost every age. There aren’t any helmets for children less than 1 year old because, at that age, a child doesn’t have the muscular control to be safe in any bike accident. Your helmet should be comfortable against your head and neither loose nor tight. The straps should be adjusted to keep the helmet level and on the forehead. If you can push up the front of the helmet more than 1 inch, it is probably too loose.

If you have any questions about fitting your helmet, or just want to see the variety of bike helmets available, visit any one of our excellent local bike shops. With so many styles available, you can find one you’ll be happy and smart to wear.

If your finances are tight, I’m very happy to say that I have spoken with SallyAnn Bluhm, who directs the local Think First program. This excellent national organization is sponsored locally by Vail Valley Medical Center and is focused on brain and spinal cord injury prevention.

Dr. Drew Werner of the Eagle Valley Medical Center writes a weekly column for the Daily. He encourages health questions. Write him by e-mail to or c/o Editor, Vail Daily, P.O. Box 81, Vail, 81658.

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