This is one of the top reasons for summer ER visits
You’re only biking around the block, so why wear a helmet?
That’s the kind of dangerous thinking that causes injuries or deaths, especially in the warm weather when so many people are biking for fun and exercise, said Kristen Liska, MD, emergency medicine physician at Cape Cod Hospital.
Her mother was fortunately wearing a helmet when she was hit by a truck just two houses away from her own home in Falmouth, where Dr. Liska grew up.
“My mother was returning home from a 20-mile bike ride when a truck backed out of a driveway and hit her,” said Dr. Liska. Her helmet protected her, and she is fine, but the accident proves the point: don’t feel so safe when you’re close to home that you neglect to wear a helmet. Don’t let distance be your guide.
“Helmets prevent head injuries,” she said.
The first serious patient Dr. Liska ever treated was an ATV rider who wasn’t wearing a helmet.
“I was working at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta during my residency,” she recalled. “My patient had been thrown from the ATV when it rolled over, and his head injuries were very bad. It’s something I’ll never forget; I wish he had been wearing a helmet.”
The use of bicycle helmets reduces the chances of having a head injury by 48 percent, traumatic brain injury by 53 percent, face injury by 23 percent, and the total number of killed or seriously injured cyclists by 34 percent, according to a recent study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.
Yet, nearly one in five parents say their child never wears a helmet when riding a bike, according to the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health at the University of Michigan.
Fewer children wear helmets for skateboarding (42 percent) and riding scooters (39 percent), according to the same national poll.
The risks are significant. More than 426,000 children – nearly 50 every hour – visited an emergency room in 2015 due to a wheeled sports-related injury, according to a 2017 report from Safe Kids Worldwide.
Safe Riding Tips
Biking should be fun, and it’s great for children and adults of all ages, said Dr. Liska. She suggests these safe riding tips:
- Parents should accompany younger children.
- Your feet should be able to touch the ground of the bicycle you are riding.
- Make sure lose-fitting clothing cannot get caught in the spokes.
- Give your bike a checkup. Are the wheels properly inflated? Do the brakes and gears work?
- Ride only during daylight hours for safety’s sake. Most bicycle accidents occur at dusk or dark.
- Watch for people getting in or out of parked cars where doors may strike oncoming bicyclists.
- Learn and use the proper hand signals.
- If riding on a sidewalk (or roadside), travel on the right side with the traffic, not against the traffic.
How to Fit a Helmet
“The most important biking tip is to wear a properly fitted helmet, not one that is loose or cracked from wear and tear,” said Dr. Liska. “The right helmet will help protect your child’s head and yours.”
There are a lot of great resources on helmets, like Safe Kids Worldwide, whose website says a helmet should sit on top of the head in a level position. It should not rock forward, backward or side-to-side. The helmet straps must always be buckled, but not too tightly.
For the best fitting helmet, watch this Safe Kids’ video and follow these tips:
- Eyes: Position the helmet on your head. Look up and you should see the bottom rim of the helmet. The rim should be one to two finger-widths above the eyebrows.
- Ears: Make sure the straps of the helmet form a "V" under your ears when buckled. The strap should be snug but comfortable.
- Mouth: Open your mouth as wide as you can. Do you feel the helmet hug your head? If not, tighten those straps and make sure the buckle is flat against your skin.
Biking is great exercise for children and adults, said Dr. Liska. When you bike safely, it can be a lifetime sport you enjoy with family and friends.