This post, as many of the posts on this blog have been, was motivated by an everyday experience (had either 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 experienced a serious bicycle accident. He mentioned breaking several bones and having a concussion. He said that the accident was proof that bicycle helmets work and that he needs to wear one all of the time. I mentioned 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 had happened. Before reading that note, he had no idea how he might have 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 citizens suffering bicycle accident fatalities as of 2016 (most recent data available) is 46. Moreover, for children under the age of 14 there is on average approximately 1 death per million in the resident population while for adults between the ages of 50 and 65 that figure jumps to over 4.6 per million. These findings should should raise concern in every adult bicycle rider. (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)
It is likely that a chief factor in this disparity is the fact that many states and cities have laws mandating that children wear helmets while there are no corresponding laws governing adult behavior. For instance, it is illegal in the city of Houston, TX for anyone under the age of 18 to ride a bicycle without a helmet but there is no equivalent law for adults. These laws ignore a basic medical reality. Adults can just as easily suffer a brain injury as any child and, based on that NHTSA data, are dying from bicycle accidents at a distressingly 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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