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Using your head before it breaks.

I’m riding a bike into my 60th year.  I’m looking forward to riding in the venerated Seattle to Portland (STP) adventure this summer along with 10,000 other neo-fanatical two-wheeling pedal-pushing humanipods.    For some of us, not requiring children to wear helmets is unconscionable.  To others, a law that takes away a person’s right to kill himself is worse, even if that person is a five-year-old child.

According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, only two percent of traffic deaths involve cyclists.  The National Bicycle Safety Network says of the more than 500,000 emergency department visits by cyclists, more than 153,000 emergency department visits each for head injuries alone.

Currently, over 20 states have implemented bicycle helmet laws.  Fortunately, the Children’s Bicycle Helmet Safety Act of 1994 made funds available for all states, cities and non-profit organizations to implement helmet education and safety programs.

In Washington, 18 cities and towns and all of King County (except Seattle) have introduced helmet laws.

So why would you want to wear a helmet if you don’t have to?  If increasing your chances of staying alive isn’t enough, consider these findings: While wearing a helmet doesn’t guarantee old age and grandchildren, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that nearly 800 people die from cycling accidents each year and nearly two-thirds of those are children.

A study by Dr. Beborah L. Benzil, of New York Medical College in Valhalla, found that the chance of dying from a head injury increases significantly after age 30.  In a separate study prepared by Duke University and the National Institute on Aging (NIA), preliminary results indicate a strong possibility of a connection between head injury and the development of Alzheimer’s disease in later life.

“Even mild head injuries can have a lasting effect on brain function.  Many people don’t realize that even a concussion can have a lasting effect on the quality of life,” Sandra Koopman, a critical care flight nurse with Airlift Northwest in Seattle.

“The real tragedy is seeing a child or young athlete undergoing brain surgery on a sunny Saturday afternoon knowing that someone so young and fit would otherwise never see the inside of a hospital.”

The last thing you want to do is put a gun to someone’s head to get them to wear a helmet.  On the other hand, the fact that 90 percent of all cyclists who lost their lives in 2000 weren’t wearing helmets presents a fairly strong argument that suggests you should at least consider it.

The good news is that voluntary use of bicycling headgear is on the rise.  According to the City of Seattle’s Transportation Department, voluntary use of helmets by Seattle cyclists is greater than their King county counterparts, where helmet use is mandatory.

The Washington State Traffic Safety Commission reports that as of the year 2000, some form of a bicycle helmet law applied to 35.6 percent of the state’s population.  Virtually every major cycling organization in the country endorses helmet use by their members.  Even professional cyclists, including Lance Armstrong, use protective headgear.

A helmet won’t guarantee your safety in the even an oncoming train or even if a frisky little automobile decides to occupy the same space as your bike.  Yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that a helmet will reduce your likelihood of head injury by 88 percent.

Now I confess that I’m not that good at math, but to me that number is significant. So for those of us who live in areas with helmet laws in place, all we need to do is obey the law and the odds that we’ll have a long cycling life will increase dramatically.

The rest of you might want to read this article again before you exercise your hard-won right to decide for yourself whether or not to use a helmet.

It should be a no-brainer.  – Gary Paul Bryant