Bike safety requires ‘using your head’
“When it comes to bicycle safety, use your head.” That advice comes straight from Dr. Yoon Hahn, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Advocate Children’s Hospital. Dr. Hahn says every bike rider should wear a properly fitted helmet while biking.
In fact, 85 to 88 percent of critical head and brain injuries from bike riding can be prevented by simply wearing a helmet, according to ThinkFirst, the National Injury Prevention Foundation.
Bicycle safety is vital to avoiding head injuries. “These injuries are preventable and dangerous, because they are not a one-time event. They can progress and worsen over time,” says Hahn.
Minor head injuries oftentimes are overlooked by parents, but can become critical or even life-threatening if not immediately treated. Blood clots formed at the site of injury have the capability of causing traumatic brain damage.
“If a head injury is not treated because the child appears normal, there is the possibility that the child may die during sleep or slip into a coma,” explains Dr. Hahn. “It is important to take any head injury seriously and seek help from a medical professional immediately.”
According to ThinkFirst, an injury can be prevented every four minutes if bike riders wear helmets. Children may start riding bikes while wearing helmets, but later remove them during the ride. This behavior increases the risk of serious injury in a bicycle mishap. Similarly, many children are not informed of the importance of wearing a helmet.
“I sometimes hear children telling their parents that they were never told to wear a helmet. It’s just such a shame,” Dr. Hahn says.
When Dr. Hahn treats children with bike injuries, he reminds them and their families about just how important it is for both children and parents alike to wear helmets. Parents need to serve as role models.
“However, wearing a helmet doesn’t work unless it is properly fitted,” Dr. Hahn cautioned. A helmet must fit the head snugly and should not move from side to side. The straps should join together tightly under the chin, and there must be no more than an inch of space between the eyebrows and the helmet.
“Many of the critical injuries occur when children are wearing ill-fitting helmets,” Dr. Hahn says. A helmet worn too far back on the head is 52 percent less effective, he adds.
Dr. Hahn offers the following tips on how to bike safely:
- Wear a properly fitted bicycle helmet with a CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) sticker.
- Adjust your bicycle to fit you. When you are sitting on the bike, your legs need to be able to touch the ground. Don’t ride other people’s bikes.
- Frequently check your bike by inflating tires when necessary as well as checking to make sure brakes are working.
- Always make sure an adult is supervising young riders in your household.
- Walk your bike in the crosswalk across busy intersections.
- Avoid riding at dusk/night. If you must ride, display reflectors and lights.
- Obey all traffic signs and signals.
About the Author
Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator on the content team at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.
I see many bike riders Downtown Chicago who don’t wear helmets but speed through lights or in and out of cars. This article should be a reminder to kids and adults to always wear a helmet.
Six years ago I was riding my bike in early July on a hot sunny day. I lost traction on a sidewalk covered with slime from a leaky inground lawn sprinkler. I fell on my left side, broke 3 ribs and punctured my lung. I also hit my head — but I was wearing a helmet. I broke the helmet’s interior styrofoam. I was in the hospital for five days. My doctor told me, “If you had not been wearing a helmet in that fall, you would be dead right now — or wish you were.” In the very cold weather I still feel a pain on my left side from the fall, but I suffered neither concussion nor any other head injury. I was a believer before the accident and now I tell my story to any cyclist who will listen. The fact that some states do not have helmet laws for motorcyclists is amazing to me. It sends a message to bicyclists that not wearing a helmet must be OK and that’s just crazy.