This is the second in a six part series regarding dangerous and annoying cycling behaviors. Although motorists may not much care one way or another about cyclists who don’t wear helmets, it should matter to the cyclist. Riding a bicycle without wearing a helmet simply is not a smart thing to do – and fortunately, almost without exception, most regular cyclists do not ride without a helmet on, period.
I do not have the statistics readily in front of me, but suffice it to say that the statistics show that wearing a helmet saves lives. The most serious cycling injuries, and the injuries that most often result in death, are traumas to the head. When a serious head trauma occurs, the brain swells and/or bleeds (hemorrhage), and unless that pressure can be relieved immediately (that is, a neurosurgeon is there to remove the skull) the person is very likely to die. A helmet absorbs the impact that the skull simply cannot – and as a result, a person who otherwise may have died is left with a slight headache.
Sometimes people ride and because they are going a short way decide to forgo a helmet. The problem is we just do not know when an incident may occur and this short helmetless ride may be your last. I have a very good (albeit not terribly coordinated friend) in the medical profession, who upon receiving a bike as a Christmas gift took it out for a short spin around the block. When he had not returned some 20 minutes later, his wife and small children found him in a daze literally a couple of houses down the street. Apparently, he had hit the curb, went down and struck his head, knocking himself out for several minutes. Luckily, he did not injure himself worse. He no longer rides without a helmet – even for a short distance.
I certainly understand the liberating feeling that comes from riding your bike with the wind blowing your hair (actually, in truth, I remember that feeling given that I don’t ride without a helmet anymore and neither do I have much hair to speak of anymore). And, I recognize the fact that a helmet is not a 100% guarantee against a serious head injury. I have, however, gone down head first at about 20 – 25 miles per hour and cracked my helmet from one end to the other. Although I had a pretty badly broken thumb that required surgery, my head was just fine (despite what my wife may think). Looking at the cracked helmet, I could not help but think that but for that helmet, I would no longer be here.
Two last points – always replace a helmet once it has been compromised (been in any kind of impact) as it will no longer protect like it should. Finally, in Alabama, and in certain municipalities in the State, helmets are mandatory – especially for minors. While I personally am unaware of these laws being rigorously enforced, and while I understand the controversy that may exist regarding them (similar to mandatory seat-belt laws), I do believe these laws are helpful if for no other reason than to educate the public and to inform new cyclists about the risks of riding without a helmet.