December 10, 2009
No Excuses When It Comes to Helmet Use
By Dr. Andrew Dennison, Brain Injury Specialist
Walton Rehabilitation Health System
Augusta, GA—This holiday season, bicycles, scooters, skateboards and skates are likely to make the wish list of many children, teens, and adults. The gift idea that’s often missing on those holiday gift lists? A helmet.
Many of us are guilty of avoiding helmet use. For example, since the repeal of universal helmet laws, motorcycle helmet use nationwide has dropped from 71 to 51 percent. In states where helmet use is not mandated for motorcyclists, only about 40 percent use a helmet, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the risk of injury also triples. Only about 20 to 25 percent of bicyclists wear helmets, even though it’s estimated that universal helmet use would prevent up to 45,000 head injuries and up to 55,000 scalp and face injuries annually.
There really are no excuses not to wear a helmet, even though some of us have programmed ourselves to leave the helmets at home, for a number of reasons. Helmets aren’t comfortable, some say, although padding and a properly adjusted fit can easily correct that. They don’t look cool, despite the many fashion-forward styles and colors now available. Some may even worry that they might mess up your hair, but riding on a motorcycle or taking a long bike ride might do that anyway.
Here are a number of real reasons to wear a helmet:
Helmets protect you from severe injury or death. The statistics are pretty irrefutable. The simple act of wearing a helmet decreases risk of brain injury by 88 percent and risk of severe brain injury by 75 percent. The majority of fatal bicycle and motorcycle accidents involve head injuries. If you think about it, your skull is the only part of your body where breaking a bone will, without a doubt, result in long-term injury or death. Why not take the few seconds to strap on a helmet?
Helmets can also protect your face from injury. While most of the focus is on head injuries, forward falls can also cause significant injury to your face, if you’re not wearing a helmet. Helmet use reduces risk of facial injury by 65 percent. For motorcyclists in particular, that means it’s important to wear full-size helmets, which help ensure your head and face are completely protected should an accident happen, versus half-helmets, which protect your head, but not your face.
Helmets protect families from the pain and grief of injury or loss of a loved one. One of the most painful experiences a family can go through is losing a loved one through a preventable accident or seeing a loved one struggle through the long-term (sometimes lifelong) healing after surviving a preventable traumatic brain injury. When you wear a helmet, it benefits not only you but also your family.
Numbers don’t lie. And in the bigger picture, as more focus falls on health care spending, more focus should also fall on prevention. According to the NHTSA, if all motorcyclists wore helmets, $853 million would be saved in health care costs, and every dollar spent on a bicycle helmet saves society $30 in indirect medical costs and other costs.
Georgia mandates motorcycle helmet use for all riders, and bicycle helmets for those under 16, while South Carolina mandates motorcycle helmet use for those under 21. No matter what a law may dictate, this holiday, make safety a focus by including a helmet with your gift of a bike or other wheeled vehicle. Or if you already own a helmet, make a resolution to wear it. There really are no excuses.
Dr. Dennison is a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician and is fellowship trained in brain injury. He provides both inpatient and outpatient care for brain injury survivors at Walton Rehabilitation Health System.
Media Contact: Danielle Wong Moores, Public Relations Specialist, 706-434-0150
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