Wear a Helmet, Please

Bikers who don't wear a helmet are asking to die

For Your Health

Wear a Helmet, Please

Bikers who don’t wear one are asking to die

– Susan Crandell

I kept my helmet after the crash. I used to run my fingers over the rough spot, the place where the road had crushed the styrofoam instead of my head. It bore a perfect impression of the asphalt. I sailed over the handlebars of my bicycle when I panic-braked to avoid a dog that ran into the road. The dog got off scott-free. For my troubles, I earned road rash on my left arm and leg, a broken collarbone and fingers that didn’t work for a week until the nerves recovered. But it could have been worse, much, much worse.

The World Health Organization just released figures on traffic accidents, which kill an estimated 1.27 million people every year. Nearly half of the deaths are cyclists, motorcyclists or pedestrians. Here in the U.S., nearly 700 cyclists were killed in 2007, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Riders who don’t wear helmets are 14 times more likely to die.

Helmets are cheap, costing as little as $10, yet not everybody uses them. Parents don’t even put them on their kids; in places where the law requires it, compliance can be as low as 6 percent. Shocking. Just as bad, I’ve seen bare-headed parents pedaling along with their helmeted kids, teaching them that as soon as they achieve the age of independence, they can throw their helmets away.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission set performance requirements in 1999 that all helmets must meet. The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, a nonprofit that studies the issue, offers tips on how to choose a comfortable, well-fitting helmet (helmets.org). Here’s what to look for:

• A smooth shell over the stiff EPS foam core that protects your noggin; you don’t want anything that could snag on something and jerk your head if you fall.

• A bright color earns bonus points because it’s easier for drivers to see.

• Look for a sticker inside the helmet that says CPSC, which indicates that the helmet meets the Consumer Product Safety Commission standards.

• Don’t just try it on in the store; adjust the straps and configure it exactly the way you’ll wear it when you ride. Twist your head around, nod up and down to make sure it’s comfortable. It should be snug on your head; if the chin strap is too loose, it will shift around in a mishap rather than protecting your head.

• The foam in a bike helmet degrades, so most manufacturers recommend replacing yours every five years. The Bicycle Helmet Safety Commission says that the amount of usage counts too and that “many helmets given reasonable care are good for longer than that.”

• Don’t just buy a helmet. Wear it every time you ride.

Happy cycling this summer.

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