Saturday, June 07, 2008

PSA - Helmets

I know that not everyone agrees on the necessity of helmet laws (in the United States). But, I wanted to take a moment to tell you about an event that happened seven years ago, today. It was a beautiful day, just like today was, and we'd just moved into this house a few months prior. One of the reasons we bought the house was because it's on a very quiet cul-de-sac street (if you don't know what that means, it's basically a street with no exit and a big, asphalt turn-around circle). We were really keen on letting the kids play outside and do all those things that make childhood fun. But, because I'm pretty neurotic about my kids safety, I never let them get on a bike without a helmet. So,...June 7, 2001. My mom was outside sitting in a lawn chair watching the kids play and ride bikes while I was in the house setting up the nursery (I was pregnant). The nursery was/is at the front of the house with a window that looks out to the street. At some point, the kids decided to ride bikes and I put their helmets on and asked my mom to supervise. All of the sudden, I heard the sickening sound of a child's scream and a loud "THWACK". As I rushed over to the window, I saw that my mom's chair was tipped over and she was running away. I bolted outside and saw P1 screaming and crying. She was pointing across the street towards where my mom was going. P2 was lying on the ground not moving and his bike was several feet away from him. The neighbor's car had a huge scrape on it and the bike was under the back, passenger side tire. Without looking, the neighbor lady had gunned it out of her driveway (she was angry at her husband and in one of those rages where she just wanted to leave). She didn't see P2 because, when he was on his bike, his head barely cleared the top of her trunk. She hit him and the force threw him about six feet from the bumper of her car.

When I got to P2, he was stirring. He had massive road rash on one side and was complaining about his side hurting. But, he was alive and we all breathed a sigh of relief. After checking him for neck and spinal injury, we sat him up and it was then that his helmet fell off. The helmet had cracked completely through. It was only held together by the chin straps and a strip of thick fitting pads. The shell was in half and the paint was gone off one side.

I know some people who say that the fact that the helmet was broke isn't necessarily indicative of the fact that P2 would've had a severe head injury. And, maybe they're right. But, I know what I saw and I know that the helmet was rated to withstand a decent amount of force and it was trashed. P2's head was perfectly fine - just a bit sore. We took him to the ER and they did x-rays. His ribs had some bruising and his road rash was pretty ugly, but he had no head injuries. When I handed the helmet to the doctor, he said that he had no doubt that it had saved him from a serious head injury. I was afraid to ask him to elaborate, but...I got the picture.

So, while I understand that they're inconvenient and take some time to fit correctly, I can't stress how important I think helmets are. Take the two minutes. Spend the $15. If you're an adult, then this choice is yours. But, if you're a parent, please, please, please make sure your child has a helmet on ANY TIME they are riding a bike. A child's head is large in comparrison to their body. They're top heavy. That means they are more likely to sustain head injuries than adults.

As you can see from these pictures from today, P3 and P4 wear helmets even when they're in the bike trailer. They also use wear them on tricycles and bikes. As you can see, P1 is wearing hers. In the words of Nike: Just do it. By the helmet...take the time. Have a safe summer!

*Note: P2 is in St. Louis. No pics of him.


Anonymous said...

I heartily endorse your sentiments - from a selfish point of view. I am an adult who regularly rides a bicycle on public roads. After a couple of prangs - mostly against inanimate objects like kerbs and unseen potholes - I took the time to examine the helmet (which I wear all the time I'm riding).

Like P2's, mine had considerable damage - which would have been damage to my skull if I hadn't been wearing it.

These helmets are very lightweight - nothing like clunky motorcycle helmets - and you honestly forget you're wearing one after a while.

They're compulsory here in Australia - but that's not why I wear mine.

Jeff R.

Charlie B. said...

I'm a regular commuting and touring cyclist (doing about 4000 miles a year...), on both upright bikes and recumbents. I'm a firm believer that helmets should not be compulsory by law - the risk of injury vs the discouragement incentive keeping the increasingly lazy population from doing a bit of exercise comes down on the "ride to the shops rather than sit in your car" side.

That said: I'm also a firm believer that the cost of wearing a helmet vs the risk of injury comes down firmly on the side of Wear A Good Helmet. It's stupid not to. And replace it every 3 or 4 years, or whenever you've given it a knock (even dropping it onto a concrete floor). No child of mine would be riding without one.

It's the balance between doing the sensible thing, and mandating it, and there's evidence from Australia showing that mandating helmets has made fewer people ride (although the rising petrol prices have reversed that trend dramatically).

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your feedback, both of you.
Jeff - These helmets are very lightweight - nothing like clunky motorcycle helmets - and you honestly forget you're wearing one after a while.
Thanks for pointing that out because I meant to and forgot. The helmet we have for P4 *is* a full helmet (like a motocycle helmet). It covers everything but his face. But, like I said in the slideshow, we transition them to a slightly less bulky version at five. Still, none of them are heavy. You're also correct about the helmet becoming habit. P3 and P4 have never not worn a helmet and we take a zero tolerance policy. They don't know it's possible to ride without them on.

They're compulsory here for children. But, you'd be amazed at how many kids you find without them.

Charlie -
I'm a firm believer that helmets should not be compulsory by law - the risk of injury vs the discouragement incentive keeping the increasingly lazy population from doing a bit of exercise comes down on the "ride to the shops rather than sit in your car" side.

That's an interesting point. I'd never thought about there being a discouragement due to helmet laws. I don't know that I would go so far as to suggest that helmet laws have lead to a "lazy population", but I suppose it may make some people less apt to ride. I think there are too many other variables that have made this generation so lazy when it comes to physical activity. One of which is the fear parents have about leaving children outside alone now. That fear wasn't as deep seated ten years ago.

That said: I'm also a firm believer that the cost of wearing a helmet vs the risk of injury comes down firmly on the side of Wear A Good Helmet. It's stupid not to. And replace it every 3 or 4 years, or whenever you've given it a knock (even dropping it onto a concrete floor). No child of mine would be riding without one.

I totally agree. I think people don't realize that they're supposed to replace them often (especially for children). And, we don't hand helmets down from kid to kid. We always purchase a new one. You never know what sort of cracks or damage lies under the pain job and it's important to get helmets that fit your child. You can't always make a hand-me-down fit the way it needs to because you've usually got sizing strips in for the last kid. It's also important to have an adult put a very small (let's say, under five) child's helmet on for them so you can check the straps for fit. Too tight and the helmet is uncomfortable, too loose and it slides.

It's the balance between doing the sensible thing, and mandating it, and there's evidence from Australia showing that mandating helmets has made fewer people ride.
I think mandating it is kind of strange, in the sense that you can mandate the helmet but it's worthless if the parent is careless about putting it on and fitting it properly for their child's needs. I've seen lots of friends just buy any old helmet and dump it on their kids' heads. You can't do that. Take the kids to the store and try on different makes and brands until you get one that is right for what your child will be doing and his/her head shape/size. Although I understand the premise, it irritates me when you see agencies give free helmets away but do not have people there making sure they're appropriate helmets for the rider. Why bother?

Anyway, thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure about fewer people riding because of mandatory helmets. I would observe - in contrast - that people opposed to helmets just don't wear them.

We may well have draconian legislation, but the police really have better things to do than to chase bare-headed riders.

The good thing about the law is that it gives the fashion-conscious (not me!) the ready excuse that: "Yes, but the law says I must wear one."

Therefore it's not sissy to wear them, its just law-abiding.

(If you worry about such things as image.)

Jeff R.

Anonymous said...

I keep thinking about Charlie's statement and, while I respect him and the point, I think it's an example of correlation is not causation. I could be wrong, though. I don't have hard statistics on why people stop riding bikes. BUT, it strikes me that not using bikes is more indicative of the generalized lack of unstructured play. I just don't see kids, other than our own, out riding bikes that often. In fact, now that I'm thinking about it, our kids are out running around more than any other kids on our street. This generation of kids don't PLAY. They "do sports" or have youth group or some other manner of highly structured, INDOOR activity. It's pretty sad.

I'm not a skinny person (I used to be). Right now, my illness is preventing me from being as active as I used to be. But, we encourage our kids to go out and play. P2 is really big on cycling (he did a 25 mile ride a few weeks back and is planning a 50 mile ride in the late summer or early fall). He's been riding a bike since he was four. But, there are boys in his scout troop who, at 12-14 years old, never were taught how to ride a bike. That's bullshit.

So, back to your point - I think there's way more going on than the law on wearing helmets. I'm sure you weren't implying that was the only cause,...I just don't think it ranks up there very high in the list of causes.

Maggie Rosethorn said...

I agree with you 100% about helmets. My kids wore them always when they were smaller and bike riding. I always were a full-face helmet on my motorcycle. You only have 1 head and 1 brain; it's worth all the protection you can give it.

I also agree with you that kids aren't usually outside just playing. I used to joke with my friends that I was a negligent mother, because I would sent the kids outside to play. No, I did not sit/stand outside and watch them. Yes, we did live on a busy street.

But kids need to be allowed to play on their terms, as well as on teams, etc. I would glance out the windows of the front/back (depending on where they were playing) and make sure they were OK, but I did NOT, (unlike so many of my neighbors) sit outside and watch them play constantly.

I did have some assistance in this, though. My neighbor had a malamute/wolf dog who adored my kids. If anyone had come anywhere near them, his barking would have alerted the whole neighborhood, and the sight of him jumping the gate would have scared anyone off. (He never DID jump the gate, but could jump straight up so his whole body could be seen so I imagine given the correct impetus he could have gone over that 6 foot gate). He knew who belonged and who didn't, and anytime a "nonbelonger" was seen, his barking brought all the neighbors to their doors/windows to find out what the dog was barking about. I miss him...

elianara said...

Making helmets mandatory, doesn't make fewer people ride bikes, there are other reasons for that. Laziness is one.

IIRC, in Finland we don't have a mandatory helmet law for bikers, we just have a recommendation. The law is such that the police can remind you of the helmet, but they can't give you a fine for not wearing one. I can say that I see a lot more bikers without a helmet than with a helmet, its like those who don't care, they just don't wear one.

I always wear a helmet, I've always had one since childhood 20 years ago. The use of helmets comes from home.

MiddleO'Nowhere said...

I had a similar experience with a helmet when I was young. I was on a bike tour and my front wheel clipped the bike in front of me while going ~30 mph. I went over the handlebars and hit the ground headfirst. I broke one of my front teeth in half and split the helmet in two. I was pretty sore, but it would have been much worse without the helmet.

I always feel naked if I get on the bike without it.

Gramomster said...

Where I live, in the MIdwest, there are kids EVERYWHERE, playing, riding bikes, shooting hoops, trooping to the playgrounds in groups. That, I love about here. Winter sucks, but thems the breaks.

My hubby was a competitive cyclist as a kid, and our kids have always ridden bikes, and always worn helmets. Now that they are 'adults', they rarely wear them, and it kind of makes me cringe. My grandson, who spends considerable amounts of time in the bike trailer with grandpa, always always always has his toddler helmet on.

A few years ago, when we lived in Seattle, my hubby commuted by bike. He had, twice, a fender support snap and go into the spokes. He called me from work once, to tell me that his helmet was in 3 pieces, but his head was in one. Holy crap! And just last week, my daughter's ex-boyfriend hit a curb, went over the handlebars, broke a tooth and broke the helmet that, fortunately, he was wearing. Don't think I've ever seen the kid in a helmet, but that day, he had one on.

Helmets good. Brains on sidewalk bad.

Poodles said...

I too agree on the helmet ideas. Also, in regards to what happened with P2, a lot of new vehicles are selling with back up cameras, and you can get after market ones installed, I have even seen them at costco for about 30.00 US dollars. If you have children I think this is a worthy investment at some point. We don't have kids, but when we got our Jeep we got the one with the camera. It has made backing up anywhere much safer.


Der Geis said...

In Europe, Copenhagen and Amsterdam for example, few people wear helmets but that is because there is such a huge number of people riding bicycles for normal use, that the safety of riding a bicycle is extremely high. The more people that ride bikes, the more people are mindful of people on bikes and also the fewer cars there are. In the Neatherlands, nearly 30% of all trips, shopping, commuting, going to school, the theater, are made on a bicycle.

Unfortunately, here in the States, few people ride bikes and the cars dominate the roads. In Pittsburgh, a fraction of a percent of commutes are taken by bicycle. It's dangerous and, while I don't support mandatory helmet laws (for adults), anyone who doesn't wear a helmet is an idiot.

Robert said...

I agree that wearing a helmet is the smartest thing to do (I don't own a car, and bike to work every day, even in the winter).

However like all things there are some small drawbacks that people should be aware of (you know, because knowing about them helps you mitigate the negatives)

The biggest thing is the study (I wish I could find it) that found that drivers give bikers an average of 2 feet less space on the road if you are wearing a helmet. (they also give men less space then women).

But that hardly negates the benefits of wearing a helmet.

Caitlin said...

I don't think helmets are required here, but we wear them anyway. You never know when someone will make a careless decision that affects you or acts of out of malice. Car vs. bike is not a fair match up to begin with... it just seems like common sense to improve your odds where you can.

I noticed you mentioned P2 enjoys longer rides. Does he have a rearview mirror for his helmet yet? Mine has helped me get out of the way of cars who swerved into the bike lanes, as well as the rude bikers who come flying down the paths without so much as an "On your left!".

I think people not riding bikes is more complex than not wanting to wear a helmet. I am fortunate to live near several great bike paths and an active biking community. The bike community is fairly active in local politics, and making sure their paths are maintained. I think if it wasn't so easy to get started safely here, we wouldn't have a strong bike community or a lot of people riding.

However, I grew up in a rural town. Riding a bike there was a sign of a deathwish. Although downtown was only 25mph, it had parallel parking on both sides of the street, no shoulders, and sidewalks that required stairs to get back to street level. The newer development was on a road with a 45mph speed limit (although people routinely go 60+). It also had no shoulders or sidewalks. We also don't have a lot of stoplights there, so people tend to get a reckless when making a left turn out of the shopping centers. Even with gas prices being what they are, it's still not enough to energize people in my hometown to demand better biking options from local government.

Ami said...

I used to work in a rehab facility.We treated many children.

I saw things that broke my heart, but by far the worst injuries were the ones that COULD HAVE BEEN PREVENTED by simply wearing a helmet.

When my children received their bicycles, they received helmets too. And I told them that if I ever even saw them sitting on the bike without a helmet, the bike would go to Goodwill immediately.

I'm equally adamant about seatbelts.

Bill said...

I, too, heartily endorse your sentiments. I have a story with a not so happy ending: in college, about 25 years ago, two friends of mine went bike riding on a beautiful sunny day like today. And just like today, a storm came up and things got dark, and it started pouring. They headed back. At an intersection, a driver overlooked them while making a left, and Steve went flying and hit his head. He was in a coma for weeks, while all his friends prayed for him. He eventually did come out of the coma, but this brilliant engineering student now had and still has the mind of an 8 year old.

Wear a helmet. Please.

Rachel said...

Thanks so much for sharing this story. As a mom of three little ones myself, I can imagine how horrified you must have been to see him on the lying on the ground! So glad he'd worn the helmet and was okay!

In our community, if a policeman sees a child biking while wearing their helmet, they'll stop and give them a coupon for a free happy meal! :)

Our kids aren't even allowed to ride their bikes in the street, unless we are all walking/riding together. Otherwise, they stay in the driveway or yard. I'm sure some think I'm a bit overprotective, but better safe than to live with regret...

I'll never understand how many parents still have that attitude of invincibility where their kids are concerned. Even with car-seats/seat-belts. I see kids (really litte ones, too!) jumping and bouncing around unrestrained and in the front seats of cars all the time and it makes me furious!

Helen said...

ITA. Sadly, they're not compulsory here (UK). But you know what really pisses me off? When you see adult and child riding their bikes - young child with helmet on, adult without. Do they expect the toddler to phone for the ambulance when dad sustains a head injury?

Monday said...

Hi P-Momma (love this blog!) et al

In NZ (where I live) it is compulsory to wear a helmet. People wear their helmets without thinking as it has been law for about 20 years--in fact I feel a bit naked without it. I also lived in Denmark for a while, where it isn't compulsory and I'm ashamed to say I didn't wear one, predominantly because I felt much safer, but also due to a bit of peer pressure.

I say take the peer pressure out of it and make it compulsory!

Incidentally, seltbelts (called "safety" belts) are also compulsory here too.

Sean the Blogonaut F.C.D. said...

I wear one as I have a penchant for using my head as a break.

Enkidu said...

It's not just bikes! We had a student at my middle school four years ago who came off her horse while practicing for a competition. The horse then tripped over her and landed on her. She was in a coma for weeks, a wheel chair for months. She had to relearn walking and talking, and will never be the same. If she had been wearing her helmet, she certainly would not have suffered the skull fractures that led to her disability, at least not to the extent that she did.

Anonymous said...

I never wore a helmet growing up (in hindsight not the brightest of ideas) and survived a few crashes with nothing more than a couple bruises.

Now that I commute daily by bike I never go anywhere without my helmet. Headlights and taillights are a must for rising at night and have saved me from more that one unwary vehicle.

Even though I didn't land on my head I was glad to have my helmet when I was run into by another cyclist a few days ago. The scrapes and cuts to my arm and leg are minor, but I would hate to have done anything along those lines to my head.

Where I live helmets are required for all children under 18, and then become optional. I'm in a town with heavy bike traffic and yet only see maybe 30% of the cyclists with helmets on (on a good day). The feeling of invincibility extends into early adulthood and most of these people don't understand the risk

CVTmoomie said...

Your children have some of the most beautiful eyes I have seen. Ever! Are they blue eyed? Where did you get your bike trailer? I think I should get my husband one for Fathers Day after seeing yours. Kaleb is three and Gennie is four. Do you think it would be crowded for them?

Just another atheist mom... said...

I couldn't agree more about wearing helmets!

We went out west when my DD was 4 and my DH insisted I pack her bike helmet as we were going to go trail riding on horses in the mountains. I mocked him, but packed the helmet.

My DD rode the sweetest mule while we were up in the mountains, but the mule "forgot" she had a rider while going over a log & bucked instead of stepping over the log. My DD (remember she was just 4) flew off the mule and nailed that log with the top of her helmet covered head. There was a hole in the helmet where a bit of stick punctured it, but my DD's head was great.

When the tears dried, all she could say was how we shouldn't be mad at the mule it was an accident and she didn't mean to do it!
My DD earned huge respect credits from my BIL, but I was so relieved my DH was thinking ahead better than I was!

My daughters have worn helmets from the time they got on their 1st big wheel. I figured why not? They might as well get in the habit when they are small. We have scooters , bikes and pogo sticks that they use with the neighbor kids, and everyone knows that no one rides in OUR driveway with OUR toys, without head protection. The new multisport helmets are great, they protect more head and have a range of funky colors & designs. My DD's now tend to look at people without helmets like they must be dense...

Whew! A lot of verbiage from a lurker, Huh?

Anonymous said...

CVTmoomie said...
Your children have some of the most beautiful eyes I have seen. Ever!

Thank you! That's quite a compliment.
Are they blue eyed?
The first three have blue eyes. P4 has a very pretty green-grey, "hazel" coloring.

Where did you get your bike trailer? I think I should get my husband one for Fathers Day after seeing yours. Kaleb is three and Gennie is four.
I can ask Pdaddy, later. We bought it ten years ago, so I've long since forgotten where we picked it up. BUT, I'm based on where we were at that point, I think it's likely from Big 5 Sports.

Do you think it would be crowded for them?

I think they'd be okay. P3 and P4 are starting to get a bit snug. The trailer holds up to 80lbs and we're not even close to that maximum weight with P3 and P4. The most important tips I can give you would be to look at the current consumer report articles on these things. Look for a trailer where the tow bar is like a ball joint (so if the bike flips to one side, the trailer stays up right). And, look for the kind with the netting AND plastic "door". If you're riding through wet or muddy places, the back tire is still going to kick up muck like you'd expect it to. Having the rain shield keeps that mud from hitting the kids. :)

Tom Foss said...

I'm consistently shocked by the lack of helmet usage in my town. I always strap mine on when I get on the bike (especially as I ride in some relatively high-car-traffic areas), but the vast majority of bikers and motorcyclists I pass are open-headed (in more ways than one, as far as I'm concerned).

What I find most interesting, though, is that I see more cyclists with helmets than motorcyclists. I get nervous about my safety riding at 10 mph on a sidewalk next to a busy street; I can't imagine being so cavalier at 35 or 40, with trucks and cars on every side.

Peter Mc said...

Kids, yep, clap a lid on. Adults, if you like. 47 mph downhill today, wind through my hair whoobah.

I used to work in the field (promoting cycling) and the stats showed that the health benefits from taking up cycling are significantly greater than the risks of cycling without.

IN Britain, most cyclists' deaths are caused by high speed crashes at roundabouts or when lorries (semis?) don't notice a cyclist between them and the kerb and turn left. A helmet does nothing to save a cyclist in those cases and the argument for wearing helmets was based on head injury being being used as shorthand for 'killed by fast/heavy vehicle, most things mangled'.

Helmets are some help in some cases, there is sibstantial evidence of cyclists with helmets taking more risks and drivers taking more liberties around helmetted cyclists - risk compensation.

Sorry to blither on, but I saw the pro-helmet lobby in the UK up close and working dirty. It was funded by? Helmet manufacturers. It used? Rigged stats and bought medics. It resulted in cycling being politically treated as a road safety problem and the miles cycled dropping substantially.

This at a time when some scientists were pointing to this burgeoning problem called global warming, and transport planners were saying that congestion is a gowing problem in this small and largely urban country.

It's not as easy as looking at a scuffed helmet and generalizing. But for kids: yes.