23 March 2009

Overheard conversations and helmets

I overheard a conversation at work this morning. Sorry, nothing juicy or salacious to report. A couple of co-workers were talking about the recent death of actress Natasha Richardson. They were talking about getting helmets for their kids when they go skiing. A quick search on the Internet netted this article that was talking about the same thing; people, concerned for their - and their kid's - safety, are getting helmets to go skiing.

You have to wonder. What is it going to take? Is some famous celebrity going to have to die on a bicycle without a helmet before the general populace realizes that bicycle helmets help save lives? I know that one of the co-workers I was eavesdropping on is aware of the relevance of wearing a helmet. Not long after the initial conversation that prompted this blog I was talking to her about the hit-and-run between a bicycle and a BMW on Thursday - the cyclist is a good friend of hers, and her husband is the one who got him into cycling.

Here are some statistics, courtesy of the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute:

  • There are 73 to 85 million bicycle riders in the US.
  • 700 bicyclists died on US roads in 2007. Over 90 percent died in crashes with motor vehicles.
  • The "typical" bicyclist killed on our roads is a sober male over 16 not wearing a helmet riding on a major road between intersections in an urban area on a summer evening when hit by a car.
  • About 540,000 bicyclists visit emergency rooms with injuries every year. Of those, about 67,000 have head injuries, and 27,000 have injuries serious enough to be hospitalized.
  • Bicycle crashes and injuries are under-reported, since the majority are not serious enough for emergency room visits. 43,000 cyclists were reported injured in traffic crashes in 2007.
  • 1 in 8 of the cyclists with reported injuries had a brain injury.
  • Two-thirds of the deaths here are from traumatic brain injury.
  • A very high percentage of cyclists' brain injuries can be prevented by a helmet, estimated at anywhere from 45 to 88 percent.
  • Direct costs of cyclists' injuries due to not using helmets are estimated at $81 million each year, rising with health care costs.
  • Indirect costs of cyclists' injuries due to not using helmets are estimated at $2.3 billion each year.
  • Helmet use in the US varies greatly in different areas and different sectors of our society. White collar commuters probably reach 80 per cent, while inner city kids and rural kids would be 10 per cent or less. Overall, our best wild guess is probably no more than 25 percent.
  • Usage rates: Sommers Point, NJ, where a state helmet law is in effect, found that only 24 of the 359 students who rode to school in one week of the Winter of 2002 wore helmets (6 per cent) until the School District adopted a helmet rule. North Carolina observed 17 per cent statewide before their law went into effect in 2001, with big variations by area and type of rider. Others:
Portland: 76% (transportation cyclists)
Alaska: 17% to 35%
Washington State 33% in east to 56% in western areas.
Duval County FL: Toddlers 100%, most others 25%
Ft Lauderdale, FL: 25%
Hollywood, FL: 15%
Hawai'i 2002: 20%
  • Helmets are cheap. The typical discount store price has risen from under $10 to about $20, but there are still models available for about $10 at major national retailers including Target and Wal-Mart.

Will a helmet stop you from having an accident? No. Will a helmet allow you to survive a crash or wreck? Possibly.

Wear a helmet.

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