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Helmets: Safer, But How Safe?

(As reported 2/6/99)
Around twelve million Americans will hit the slopes this winter and some of them will literally hit too hard. Last year more than seventeen thousand skiers and snowboarders suffered head injuries.

"We don't want to have to mark every obstacle," says Tahoe ski instructor Mike Allen, "so it's important to follow the rules and check with the patrols to see what the conditions are like."

While overall, skiing is a safe sport, even the best conditions don't prevent tragedy, reports CBS News Correspondent Maggie Cooper. The Consumer Product Safety Commission believes helmets can help.

"Our study shows that ski helmets can reduce the severity of head injuries or prevent them altogether in 44% of cases with adults and 53% of cases with children," says Ann Brown, C.P.S.C. Chairwoman.

Their study also concludes eleven deaths a year, a third of those attributed to head injuries, could be avoided with the use of helmets. Although no states have laws requiring them, many skiers swear by them.

Last year Americans bought nearly 250,000 ski helmets, three times as many as the previous year, but before consumers get it into their heads that a helmet provides total protection, they ought to slow down.

"Helmets may lessen the impact," says Neuroradiologist Christopher Filippi, "but certainly above a certain range of speed it's unlikely that the contusions would be helped by helmet use."

That means that even if a helmet protects your skull, your brain could still be injured.

"Anytime you add safety equipment, whether it be padded shin guards or armor plating, you're going to be in a safer position," says Mike Allen, "but. . .if you add an airbag to your car it doesn't mean you can drive recklessly."

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