I'd like to focus again on the dangers of bicycling, after my previous post about sports injuries. Bellingham recently experienced a sad loss of one of our citizens to a terrible bike accident, and I noticed the ghost bike near where Eric Weight died placed as a memorial and reminder of his death. There's a lot of focus on football being the thing to avoid to keep our heads safe, but it's actually bicycling that carries a greater risk of head injury. In fact, bicycling sits in the number one spot of sports-related head injuries. Truth in numbers: Cycling accidents were responsible for 86,000 of the 447,000 sports-related head injuries treated in emergency rooms in 2009. Football accounted for 47,000 of those head injuries. Baseball played a role in 38,394. Cycling was also the leading cause of sports-related head injuries in children under the age of 14 with 40,272 injuries, almost double the 21,878 head injuries incurred among youth football players.
Yet many states do not require cyclists to wear a helmet. While simply following the law shouldn't be the only thing to consider in making good decisions, this fact surprises me. Our state of Washington does not have a bike helmet law, and neither does Bellingham. Sure, it's more comfortable to ride sans helmet, but not if you get into an accident. It obviously, dramatically increases the risk of serious head injury.
The difference in number of head injuries between football and bicycling can be linked to popularity. Bicyling has grown in popularity, and it is the preferred way of travel for many who wish to avoid traffic, parking fees, and car maintenance. Many members of the Milennial generation forego cars altogether and opt for a bike to get around town. Here again are some stats: cycling accidents thus account for 900 deaths, 23,000 hospital admissions and 580,000 visits to the Emergency room every year.
Head injuries are the biggest reason cyclists die in bike crashes. About 3/4 of deaths are due to them.
It's no surprise that the biggest risk to cyclists in riding on the streets without a helmet are collisions with motor vehicles. In some regions of America, up to 90% of bicyclists killed in 2009 weren't wearing a helmet. Many of these were middle-aged men, which makes me think of bike commuters. Luckily Bellingham is getting wise to this, and incorporating bike-friendly traffic management and specified bike lanes and boxes while educating the public on how to use them. Forty percent fewer crashes result in streets with designated bike lanes. While it may be common sense to wear a helmet and not worth the expense to mandate and enforce a law for it, these bike lanes are key to making roads safer to share.
Effectiveness of Bicycle Helmets
If you could decrease your risk of head injury by 69%, would you? No? How about if you include lowering the risk of brain injury by 65% and severe brain injury by a full 74%? Okay, then, wear a helmet! Though they don't protect the lower face, helmets significantly prevent brain injuries for all cyclists, of all ages. Any type of helmet can help, including hard, thin or no-shell helmets. Hard-shell are the preferred choice, because they offer slightly more protection against severe brain injury. Learn how to wear a helmet here.
Please know that helmets won't prevent all head injuries. Safe riding is a big part of this also, which I'll give some tips on doing in a moment. A cyclist can buy the best fitting helmet on the planet, but still experience head injury if that helmet is left at home, doesn't fit correctly or is improperly worn. Some crashes are so intense or involve forces that a helmet cannot possibly compete against.
Please keep safety in mind when you are out there on your two wheels:
- Use designated bike lanes if they are available and lobby your local politicians if they are not.
- Always wear a helmet.
- Follow the rules of the road.
- Use turn signals and do not jet out between vehicles.
Contact me if you need help with your insurance claim because you were injured while riding your bicycle. I'm well experienced working with injured bicyclists. Give me a call at (360) 392-2833.