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Buckle Up That Bike Helmet, Feds Say

Federal safety officials are calling for a new campaign for bicycle safety. It's a response to growing evidence that this popular recreation is becoming more dangerous. CBS News's Thalia Assuras reports.

More and more bicyclists are wearing helmets. Half of the 81 million riders in the country now do.

As one biker attests, "I always wear my helmet. I've taken a couple of spills too and it's been useful."

But even so there has been a 10% increase in the number of head injuries in the past decade. That's according to a report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

"We're surprised here at CPSC to find that head injuries are going up on bikes," says Ron Medford, CPSC spokesperson.

About 500,000 people are injured in bicycle accidents every year and more than 800 of them die. Last year, almost 74,000 people suffered head injuries--even though ridership is down

Researchers are looking into the causes. But some safety specialists are skeptical that bicycling is becoming hazardous.

Dr. Richard Schieber of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, "Bicycling as a recreational sport or as an enthusiast commuter is a very safe activity--less than 1% of all bicyclists are injured."

Studies have shown that wearing a bicycle helmet can reduce severe head injuries by as much as 88%. And now 20 states are making it mandatory for children under 16 to wear one. But the experts say it's more than just wearing a helmet that matters.

"Helmets need to be properly fitted and squarely on the head and strapped tightly around the throat," says Medford of the CPSC.

Rider Diane Daniel says, "I had a broken nose, cuts on my face and my mouth, and my four front teeth were cracked."

For 7 years, Daniel has been an avid cyclist. In 1998, while riding her bike through a green light, she was struck by a Chevy Blazer that crossed in her path. Daniel was knocked out and suffered a serious concussion even though she was wearing her helmet.

"It was pretty clear from my helmet, which was cracked right at the crown of my head, that that would have been my head as opposed to the helmet that had been cracked. So I totally believe that the helmet saved my life," says Daniel.

Safety specialists say that one out every five bicycling injuries involves a collision between a bicycle and a car. And with more motorists on the road, bicyclists need to beware.

Schieber says, "Right now we have more of a problem of motorists understanding that bicyclists have a legal right to use the road as well as motorists--and they have to share it."

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