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Bike-Helmet Use & Head Injuries Both on Rise--Why?

Each year more than 800 bicyclists are killed and more than half a million are treated in emergency rooms. Despite the increased use of bicycle helmets, head injuries are on the rise. Dr. Emily Senay is here with more.

Why are head injuries on the rise?

The answer is not clear at this point because we don’t know the specifics of every bicycle accident. We know there are more people than ever wearing bicycle helmets. The latest government survey estimates that 50% of riders wear a helmet regularly. But what is raising eyebrows is that the number of head injuries is increasing and not declining as you would expect. Everybody still agrees that wearing a bicycle helmet is a great way to prevent injury, reducing your risk as much as 85%. But safety experts are realizing that putting a helmet on your head is only part of the equation.

What other reasons could account for the increase in head injuries?

Some say that is because there are simply more bicyclists out there. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the number of bikers increased 20% from 1991 to 1999. But others cite more recent surveys that have shown that other sports like inline skating, skateboarding, and scooters have reduced the number of bikers. All of which come with similar risks of injury, it should be noted. Some blame a rising number of aggressive drivers and drivers distracted by cell phones.

What else can you do to prevent bicycle injuries?

There are also several safety items you need in addition to a bicycle helmet. After dark is a dangerous time for bicyclists, so reflective tape or markings for your clothing are a good idea. You also need front and rear reflectors for your bicycle, as well as front and rear lights. When it comes to a bike helmet, make sure that it conforms to Consumer Product Safety Commission standards.

Make sure you read the instructions! The helmet is only going to provide protection if it is snug and worn level on the head, and the chinstrap is buckled.

What can bicyclists do to avoid traffic accidents?

A lot of injuries happen when vehicles and bicycles collide. Cyclists must be aware of and obey the rules of the road just like motorists. Use hand signals to indicate turns so drivers know where you are going. Ride single file with the flow of traffic in the lane farthest to the right. Let other cyclists know when cars are approaching.

The bottom line is that cyclists need to be attentive at all times on the road. Many drivers do not always notice cyclists.

Is there any advice for off-road bike safety?

Even with safety gear, off-road biking or mountain biking can result in serious injury. It’s important not to assume that just because you have a helmet or safety pads that you are immune to harm. Some bike safety experts call that false sense of security the "daredevil effect," and it can apply whether you ar mountain biking or just cycling down the street.
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