This post, as many of the posts on this blog, are motivated by everyday experiences I have at work or in my personal life. This particular post was influenced by a conversation I had on Facebook. Recently, a friend of mine posted a picture from 20 years ago. The picture was taken after he had a serious bicycle accident. He mentioned breaking several bones and having a concussion during the accident. He said that the accident was proof that bicycle helmets work and that he needs to wear one all of the time. After reading his Facebook post, I mentioned to him that I have seen several patients with severe brain injuries due to bicycle accidents and agreed that he needs to wear a helmet whenever bicycling. He responded by telling me that the accident was so serious that it affected his memory. He woke in the emergency room with a note taped to his chest, telling him what happened, as he had no idea how he ended up in the emergency room.
This brings us to a worrisome trend I have noticed. While many more children are wearing bicycle helmets while out riding than in the past, many adults are not. This is especially concerning when looking at accident data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). According to the NHTSA, the average age of bicycle accident fatalities as of 2016 (most recent data available) is 46. Moreover, for children under the age of 14, there are on average approximately 1 death per million resident population while for adults between the ages of 50-65, the average is over 4.6 per million. These findings should raise concern in all adult bicycle riders. (For this data, and further information on bicycle safety from the NHTSA, click on this link https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812507)
A prime reason that children are wearing helmets while adults are not is that many states and cities have laws mandating that children wear helmets while there are no similar laws for adults. For instance, it is illegal in the city of Houston for anyone under the age of 18 to ride a bicycle without a helmet but there is no equivalent law for adults. This law in Houston, and similar laws in other locales, ignore a basic medical reality. An adult can just as easily get a brain injury as a child and, based on NHTSA data, are dying from bicycle accidents at a higher rate than children. Just as children need to protect their brains from injury, so do adults. Reaching the age of 18 does not magically make a bicycle rider immune to serious accidents. Everyone, including adults, should always wear a helmet when riding a bicycle!
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