Vail Dear Doc column: Don’t be hard headed, wear a helmet |

Vail Dear Doc column: Don’t be hard headed, wear a helmet

Dr. Drew Werner
VAIL CO, Colorado

Hey mom or dad,

How come I need to wear a helmet riding my bike when my friend doesn’t have to?

Respectfully (hopefully!),

Your son or daughter

Dear moms and dads, sons and daughters,

Every decision we make is for a reason. Sometimes those reasons are because “we have to”. That just means we were told to do so by someone who has authority over us. Authority often means they have the ability to cause something to happen that we will not be happy about should we not follow their rules. Other times the reason is simply because we do not know that we have choices. The best reason we make any decision however, is always that we freely chose to do so. It seems so simple, wear a helmet and you can avoid a potentially life changing injury. The true challenge though, is not in wearing the helmet, but in making the decision to put it on.

I have often said “We can fix broken bones and we can fix cuts and scrapes but we can’t fix broken heads.”

It seems simple, but it is all too easy to get seduced into that dangerous attitude of “it won’t happen to me.”

According to Webster, 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.

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 one 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 (no baseball caps underneath a helmet!) 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.

Visit for some brief instructions on how to fit your (or equally importantly, your child’s) helmet. You can also check out for drawings of a proper fit.

The decisions we each make go far beyond whether to wear a helmet or not. We are fortunate to live in a great country where freedom extends to every choice we have. Sure there are guidelines, recommendations, rules and laws but the final decision is ours. Choose wisely. Wearing a helmet is just a start.

Make your summer a safe one. I hope to see you out on the trail!

Dr. Drew Werner is a medical staff leader at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, a family physician at TotalHealth Care and the Eagle County Health Officer. He lives in Eagle with his family. E-mail comments about this column to

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