May is National Bike Month, a month to focus on this healthy and fun way to get from place to place, and a time to revisit some of the most basic safety recommendations for bicyclists. Bicycle use is on the rise, and with this swell of cyclists in our cities, it’s especially important that bicyclists and drivers alike know what it takes to keep riders safe from harm.
From 2001 to 2009, the League of American Bicyclists reports that annual bicycle trips more than doubled, from 1.7 to 4 billion. Bike share programs are becoming a reality in cities from coast to coast, and one is even under consideration here in Atlanta. But a discussion about the growing use of bicycles is not complete without underscoring the importance of helmet use.
Cycling accidents played a role in 86,000 of the 447,000 sports-related head injuries treated in emergency departments in 2009.
The American Association of Neurological Surgeons also reports that cycling was the leading cause of sports-related head injuries in children under 14. It caused over 40,000 injuries, compared with just under 22,000 caused by football accidents, the second leading source.
Why is bicycling so dangerous? Cyclists often ride in traffic, and they are often cavalier about taking safety precautions. A football player wouldn’t think of getting in the game without a helmet, but cyclists do it all the time.
When you are sharing the road with cars and trucks, the risks are significant.
About 90% of all fatal bike accidents involved cyclists who weren’t wearing helmets. Perhaps surprisingly, most of the victims were adult men. These were cyclists capable of making their own safety decisions and many of them were likely aware of the risks.
Head injuries are common in bicycle accidents. Seventy-five percent of all fatal bicycle accidents in NYC involve a head injury. The Cleveland Clinic estimates about two-thirds of fatalities and one-third of injuries in bicycle accidents involve the head and face. They also suggest that wearing a helmet can reduce your risk of a serious head injury by 85 percent.
Fortunately, bicycle helmets on the market today are designed to prevent the most significant brain injuries, those that can lead to death. Also, using a bicycle helmet is the law in the state of Georgia. Any person under the age of 16 is required to wear a helmet while cycling.
What to look for when shopping for a helmet
Bicycle helmets can be found in sporting goods stores and in many “big box” retailers. While you may get a better deal online, it’s always good to try on the helmet, so finding one at a nearby retailer is preferred.
Look for a helmet with a sticker from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) on the inside. Helmets made after 1999 are required to meet standards set by this safety agency.
When trying on your helmet, it should be snug but comfortable. If it can move from side to side or up and down, it’s not a proper fit and you should choose a smaller size. It should also sit level on the head, not be titled back on the back of your head—it should come down over the top of your forehead.
A proper fitting helmet will have a comfortable chin strap, with ‘Y’ shaped material that comes together at the bottom of the ears. When buckled, you should be able to fit no more than one finger between the strap and your chin.
Though you may be tempted to find the helmet that looks best, don’t get caught up too much in aesthetics—these are safety tools and not fashion statements. No matter how the helmet looks, it could mean the difference between life and death should you be involved in a bicycle accident.