Love Your Brain — Wear a Helmet


South Carolina Bicycle Helmet Law

There is no federal law in the U.S. requiring bicycle helmets; 22 states have passed laws requiring at least some bike riders to be helmeted, usually those under 18 years of age. South Carolina has no bicycle helmet law. So those bicyclists you see who are not wearing a helmet are not breaking the law… but they are flirting with disaster. Bicycle wrecks often cause head injuries. The Snell Memorial Foundation, whose mission is to improve helmet design and encourage their use, offers the following cautionary statistics:

  • Every year the estimated number of bicycling head injuries requiring hospitalization is more than the total of all the head injury cases related to baseball, football, skateboards, kick scooters, horseback riding, snowboarding, ice hockey, in-line skating and lacrosse.
  • Estimated indirect costs for injuries to un-helmeted cyclists are $2.3 billion yearly.
  • In bicycle crashes, 2/3 of the dead and 1/8 of the injured suffered brain injuries.

Each year, the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA) conducts a campaign to increase awareness about brain injuries — their causes, costs and treatment.

We’re all aware that traumatic brain injuries are often suffered in motor vehicle wrecks, and we’ve seen how car and truck design and technology have combined to protect occupants of these four-wheeled vehicles. But many people choose two-wheeled transportation, and as our weather warms up, you’ll be seeing lots of tiny tots and energetic elders out for a bike ride.

Every single one of them should be wearing a helmet… but many won’t be.

A fairly inexpensive bike helmet can reduce the severity of a head injury, but Insurance Institute for Highway Safety statistics for the past few years reflect the sobering fact that no more than 17 percent of fatally injured bicyclists were wearing helmets.

How Well Do Helmets Work?

Very well indeed, according to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute. When they are fitted and worn correctly, helmets provide a 66 to 88% reduction in the risk of head, brain and severe brain injury for bicyclists of all ages.

Correct Fit is the Key

In general, a bicycle helmet should sit level on your head, touching all around, comfortably snug but not tight and should not move more than about an inch in any direction. The website of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has detailed instructions and diagrams to help you select and adjust a bike helmet so that you get maximum protection.

How Does a Helmet Prevent Brain Injuries?

It’s not just a matter of putting some comfy foam padding between your head and the hard, rough ground. Brain injuries from a sudden bike crash are similar to those that can be sustained in a car crash: Although the vehicle stops moving, the tissue inside the skull doesn’t. A helmet helps the head slow down gradually by cushioning the blow with specialized foam that crushes and doesn’t bounce back, and the plastic shell helps by allowing the head to slide over the ground so the neck doesn’t get wrenched.

According to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute (BHSI), during a crash a helmeted head comes to a stop in about 6 thousandths of a second, compared to the 1 thousandth of a second for a bicyclist who wrecks without a helmet on. Even milliseconds count in keeping the brain from reaching what they call “the injury threshold.” We like their comparison of a helmet to a thumbtack:

When thumbtacks are used correctly, the wall is pierced, not the thumb. The flat of the thumbtack spreads the force over a broad area of thumb and the sharp point concentrates that same force against a small area of the wall. In the same way, a good helmet spreads concentrated forces from a rock or any irregular impact surface over a broad area of the helmet’s protective liner and the wearer’s scalp and skull. Instead of slicing through flesh and skull, the forces are redirected by the helmet. Not wearing a helmet is comparable to misusing a thumbtack, except that hardly anyone dies of thumb injuries.

Not a One-Time Buy

You don’t have to shell out big bucks to get an adequate bike helmet. The BHSI conducted lab tests on inexpensive helmets from Big Box stores and pricy ones from swanky bike shops and found very few differences in performance. That’s a good thing, because helmets do need to be replaced from time to time.

To begin with, anytime a bike helmet has been dropped or impacted in a crash, it must be replaced. Bicycle helmets are designed to protect against a single severe impact; the foam material is designed to crush, once and for all. Even you can’t see cracked or crunched foam, the helmet must be replaced.

Another reason to buy a new helmet is to take advantage of improvements in design and materials. The U.S. government safety standards for bike helmets have evolved over time, and you want yours to bear a CPSC, ASTM or Snell sticker.

Protect your brain with a helmet… don’t just think about it.

Promoting Brain Injury Awareness

The Brain Injury Association of America is partnering with Nutcase, the Portland-based maker of helmets for biking and other sports, to help raise awareness about brain injury during the month of March. Nutcase will be donating $2 from each helmet sale through their website (http://www.nutcasehelmets.com) this month. They’ve got all sizes and designs that will make anyone feel cool.

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