As a Physical Therapist I have seen the detrimental effects a head injury can have on a person and his/her family. Taking the simple step of wearing a helmet will substantially decrease the risk of head injury while riding your bike. I am fortunate to live close enough to the children’s school that I get to walk them to and from school daily. I make sure my two kids always wear their helmets when riding their bikes or using their scooters. Unfortunately, I see only about 10% of the kids wearing a helmet on their way to school when riding a bike or scooter.
What is a Head Injury?
A head injury is exactly what it says: an injury to one’s head including the scalp, skull, and brain. The severity can range from a scalp scrape to a slight concussion to death. We all have heard more recently in the news about concussions and management with sports, especially football. It may surprise you but in 2009 there were 82% more head injuries seen in the Emergency Room from bicycling compared to football! We wouldn’t dare let our kids play tackle football without a helmet, but so many parents let their kids ride bikes without a helmet.
The most dangerous aspect of closed head injuries is that there is not always an immediate sign of injury. For example, someone could sustain a head injury during a fall and not complain of more than an ache, which is to be expected if they hit their head. Hours later, when the pressure from the swelling you can’t outwardly see has increased, the person complains of nausea, severe headache, becomes sleepy, or becomes unconscious. An example in the news of this in 2009 is Natasha Richardson after she sustained a head injury from skiing. More information on head injuries, causes, and symptoms can be found on the National Library of Medicine website.
Head Injury Statistics
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety identify that 2% of the motor vehicle crash deaths are bicyclists every year. I know 2% doesn’t seem like a large number, but that is deaths not injuries. In 2013 over 48,000 cyclists were injured, and this number is presumed low as “research into hospital records shows that only a fraction of bicycle crashes causing injury are ever recorded by the police, possibly as low as ten percent.” (click here for the website article). Wearing a helmet can decrease the risk of head injury by over 85%. Wow, now that is a large number! Just with taking less than 5 seconds you can decrease your risk of injury to your head, which contains your BRAIN, by 85%!
It’s also the law in some states. 21 states and Washington D.C. have helmet use laws for young riders. I researched Georgia, where I currently live. Georgia law states “No person under the age of 16 years shall operate or be a passenger on a bicycle on a highway, bicycle path, or sidewalk under the jurisdiction or control of this state or any local political subdivision therof without wearing a bicycle helmet.” Have you ever heard of a police offer giving out a ticket for not wearing a bicycle helmet??
At What Age Should You Stop Wearing a Helmet?
You should stop wearing your helmet when you want to stop protecting your brain. So, for me this is never :-). Some of the most common excuses I have heard from adults are: “I know how to ride a bike, I’m not going to fall”, “I know how to fall…I won’t hit my head”, “It doesn’t look cool to wear a helmet at my age”, and “I’m not riding fast enough to wear a helmet.” My reply is always, it’s not your ability you need to worry about. As we know drivers are distracted and there is no discrimination in regards to age or skill when hit by a car. Who knows how they will react and how they will fall in such a tragic event?
Riders at any age can fall off and it doesn’t matter how long you have been riding. There are bumps, road imperfections, and uneven sidewalks everywhere, and if a rider is distracted for a fraction of a second any of these can cause a fall. In addition to cars, bicyclists need to watch out of animals (ie dogs) that run out in front of them. Again, an unexpected event causes the rider to steer away sharply and can end in a fall. Automobile drivers are not the only ones that are distracted. Cyclists can also be distracted by the scenery, people they pass, or their cell phones. As an extreme example one could that can suffer a seizure, heart attack, or stroke and sustain a fall.
To the excuse that they don’t look cool, I say “get over it.” You won’t look any cooler after having brain surgery and laid up in the hospital. The best way to teach our children is by example. So, we need to wear a helmet when riding our bikes to demonstrate safe behaviors. It also avoids having to answer the question: “Why do I have to wear a helmet if you don’t?”
How to Fit a Helmet
Overall your helmet should fit snug, level, and stable – see here for more detailed helmet fitting instructions. The helmet should fit snug so that it is touching your head all the way around. The chin strap should be snug enough that you can barely fit a finger between the strap and your chin. It should be level or sitting flat on the head and not tilted back. Lastly it should be stable so that it can resist shaking or a blow to the head. You should also adjust the side straps so that the point of the “v” sits below your ears. There are many styles and sizes of helmets available with related price ranges. If your children are like mine (with large heads) they may need an adult size helmet. So, make sure you check the fit regardless of the age suggestion on the helmet.
You should check the fit before every ride as the straps loosen often. If you can wiggle it more than an inch in any direction it needs to be tightened.
Should I Wear A Helmet When Riding a Bike? – Final Thoughts
Wearing a helmet is such an EASY step to take to protect your head when bike riding. It is important for ALL ages and skill levels. The best way to teach our kids safe bicycling is by demonstrating and putting on a helmet.
I have personal experience with the benefit of wearing a helmet. Below there is a picture of my daughter’s helmet after she fell off a scooter when riding on imperfect asphalt. Thankfully her helmet cracked and not her skull!!!