By Emma Maaranen
It is spring, and after a cold and inverted winter along the Wasatch Front the bikers have taken to the streets again. As I pedal around town running my errands, I cannot help but feel love for my fellow cyclists: the serious commuter bogged down in panniers, a hipster on a fixie, the matching-kit roadies headed up Emigration, and the mountain biker dusty from the just-dry bobsled trail. But many of these cyclists are testing heart by not wearing helmets! This appears to be a new trend, and it terrifies me.
I have heard all the excuses and arguments against wearing a brain-bucket. “It will flatten my hair”, “I’m just riding on the sidewalk to the corner market”, “I’m a careful rider.” I’ve even been in a debate with a guy who thinks buying and wearing helmets prevents more people form riding bikes and therefore a “critical mass” is not being reached. A critical mass of cyclists, he believes, would change motorists driving habits thus alleviating auto/bike accidents. I say that even a careful driver can be surprised by a cyclist from time to time, but fear of auto/bike accidents is not the only reason to don a brain bucket.
A tire puncture on a steep descent, a railroad track that grabbed a wheel, sand, ice, operator error… I have been victim to each of these, and once I walked off the sting of the ground I was able to ride home with only a rattle to my noggin and a renewed apprehension of gravity. My ER doc friend has seen minor plops to the ground from bikes lead to concussions, traumatic brain injuries, strokes, comas and deaths that he believes a helmet would have prevented.
* Head injury is the most common cause of death and serious disability in bicycle-related crashes; head injuries are involved in about 60 percent of the deaths.
* Many nonfatal head injuries from bike accidents produce lifelong disability from irreversible brain damage.
* Bicycle helmets are a proven intervention that reduces the risk of bicycle-related head injury by about 80 percent, yet bicycle helmets are not worn by most riders. Only 19 percent of adults and 15 percent of children use helmets all or most of the time while cycling.
Much research has been published in the past year about the long term effects of head trauma, and stories about athletes experiencing serious neurological and psychological diseases believed to be a result of repeated head trauma are surfacing. Early onset Alzheimer disease, dementia and depression are believed to be directly related to a history of head trauma. What’s frightening is that these diseases are turning up at high rates in athletes who experienced only a few hard head hits over their careers or who experienced many mild ones. This is not a consequence of boxers and football players alone. There is also evidence that brain deterioration is more profound if the individual is younger and if there are repeat injurys before the brain has completely healed. For example, a mild (grade 1) concussion, which causes temporary amnesia but not loss of consciousness, will reduce motor control and the ability to focus while the brain is healing. This may take up to as long as three months! With these afflictions, the individual is at greater risk of another trauma. Another head injury in this window is likely to have more severe symptoms and increased future consequences.
I think the new research into head injuries and especially repeat trauma may be enough to inspire any intelligent cyclist into the pro-helmet camp. I’m going to invest in a few more helmets and see if I can start a fashion forward health trend!