As Covid-19 continues to change the way we live and commute, many people are dusting off their bikes and doing the necessary repairs in preparation for when we will be able to resume normal activity. Bikes will become the smart way to commute for some time to come – they allow for the necessary social distancing. Bike safety helmets will become just as important. But why should you wear a bike safety helmet?
Most of us wear bike helmets because that’s how we were taught to do it when we first learned to cycle. When your parents bought you your first bike it came with a helmet; each time you went out on it, you were reminded to wear your helmet.
For many of us, as we grew older, it was the thing to do – sort of like putting on your shoes before you head out or brushing your teeth before bed.
But bike helmet safety is not something that we think about much of the time. We just do it because that’s how we’ve always done it. It’s worth looking into so that we can get an understanding of why it’s vital.
Bike Helmet Safety
You may wonder why you should take the time to learn about helm safety. It matters, and here is why: when you understand why bike helmets are important, you’ll always take the time to choose a helmet that will keep you safe and wear it in the right way.
Not one that’s fashionable or one that makes you look cool, but one that gives you proper protection in the event of an accident.
Statistics on Bike Accidents: With Helmet Vs. Without helmets
Between 800 and 900 cyclists die in the United States every year as a result of traffic fatalities since 1990. They make up about 2% of all traffic fatalities.
This number may seem rather high, but compare it to 1975, for example, when 1,000 people died as a result of cycling accidents in that year alone. Back then, helmets were optional.
Here are a few other statistics, or bike helmet safety facts, to help put things in perspective:
- The typical cycling fatality is a male above 20 years old, sober, at an intersection, hit by a car, when NOT wearing a helmet.
Bike helmets reduce the risk of death by more than 95%.
- 54% of cycling fatalities in the United States in 2017 were NOT wearing helmets at the time of the accident. Among those who wear helmets, fatalities are around 16%.
- For those who wear helmets, the risk of head injury is reduced by 50%. The odds of injuries to the neck and neck are about 33%.
- Only about half the states in the US have mandatory helmet laws for young cyclists, and only for young cyclists. Older riders don’t have to follow these laws.
Statistics show that the odds of cyclists wearing helmets increase 4 times when it’s required by the law – cyclists worry about repercussions in case they are stopped by police.
- Nearly three-quarters of all cycling fatalities are caused by head injuries, and around 95% of all who die didn’t have a helmet on.
Interestingly, males seem to face significant challenges when it comes to helmet use; fatalities represent a disproportionately high number of young boys, teenage boys and adult men.
What does this tell you?
In a nutshell, that wearing a helmet can make the difference between whether you live or die. Many people assume that if you are just cycling around the corner, or to see a friend down the road you don’t really need to don your helmet. What are the odds that you can be involved in an accident in such a short distance?
In fact, that’s when many cycling accidents and fatalities occur – when one hadn’t planned to travel far, and therefore didn’t wear their helmet.
It doesn’t matter whether you are planning to cycle next door, or miles away. You should wear a bike helmet each time you get on your bike.
Dangers of not Wearing Bike Safety Helmet
We’ve seen that the odds of survival are reduced dramatically for those who cycle without bicycle helmets. But what happens to those who survive?
If you are involved in a cycling accident, and you are lucky enough to survive your injuries, you can expect your life to change significantly.
The most common cause for these changes will be a traumatic brain injury, commonly referred to as TBI. Cycling causes more traumatic brain injuries than any sport – think soccer, football, hockey etc.
TBI is not something that you easily get over. Most people who are unfortunate to suffer a traumatic brain injury have to live with the effects for the rest of their lives. Here are some common symptoms they endure:
- Changes in thinking: these are commonly observed in soldiers in war zones who suffer TBI as a result of injuries from things like shrapnel, bangs on the head and so on. Changes can manifest as poor decision making, short attention spans, diminished communication, poor problem-solving abilities, poor organization, poor self-image, short and long term memory loss, lack of awareness during everyday activities such as driving, poor socialization skills, extreme and continuing fatigue, increased anxiety, unwarranted fear and so on.
- Physical symptoms: common ones include erratic sleep patterns, bad dreams and nightmares, insomnia, headaches, poor appetite, back, neck and jaw pain, extreme fatigue, pain when you exercise, pain caused by movement and others.
- Personality changes: many people who have TBI have little or no self-motivation, lack of self-control, poor temper control, restlessness and jumpiness, higher than usual levels of frustration over everyday things, inappropriate behavior and more.
How to Wear a Bike Helmet Correctly and Mistakes to Avoid
Buying a bike helmet is just the first step. Whether it’s a girl’s bike helmet, a boy’s bike helmet on an adult helmet, you have to wear it correctly every time for complete helm safety.
Let’s look at things you shouldn’t do, and then at guidelines for how to wear a helmet
Bike Helmet Don’ts
Even when cyclists buy helmets and wear them, they don’t always use them correctly, and that can be just as dangerous as not wearing a helmet. It’s impossible to mention all the things you shouldn’t do here, but here are some common mistakes you shouldn’t make when you wear a bike helmet:
- Don’t tilt your helmet upwards away from your eyes. It’s only natural to feel like your bike helmet is obstructing your line of sight, especially if you don’t wear one very often. You may feel tempted to tilt it up further above your eyebrows. This is the wrong way to wear a helmet. It should be about two fingers above your eyebrows, nestling comfortably on your head.
- Helmet straps shouldn’t be loose; they should fit snugly under your chin. A loose helmet can fly off on impact.
- Not fastening your chin straps is akin to not wearing a helmet at all.
- Don’t wear a helmet that doesn’t fit the top of your head properly. If it moves from side to side when straps are fastened it means it’s too big, and not safe for you to cycle in.
- Think wearing your helmet backwards is cool? Think again; it puts you in added danger if you are involved in an accident. You should wear your helmet facing the front at all times.
Wearing open-face helmets is not nearly as safe as wearing a full-face helmet. A full-face helmet has a visor and a system to protect your lower jaw. An open-face helmet may be cheaper and more stylish, but it provides no protection for your jaw, and without a visor leaves your face exposed in the event of an accident.
- Not cleaning the visor is a common mistake. A visor protects you from the elements and therefore gets dirty. If you don’t clean it, it soon will be full of dust and other gunk that make it impossible to see through. You’ll be cycling with compromised visibility.
- Wearing a helmet with a scratched visor is never recommended. As your helmet ages, the visor gets scratched from everyday wear and tear. The more scratched it is, the harder it is to see through. When you notice scratches on your visor, it’s a good time to replace your helmet.
- Placing a mobile phone between the helmet and your ear. Using a mobile phone as you cycle is not recommended at all. In some places, it’s against the law. However, if you really must have your phone with you (which is recommended), there are safe ways to carry it. You can use one of the pockets in your garments, like a jacket or pants pocket, an Osprey Daylite Pack, a cycling armband, a top-tube bag, inner-tube bag or a Chrome Kadet bag. These bags are recommended for cyclists because they can hold all bits and bobs you need while out on the road.
The Proper Way to Wear a Bike Helmet
After you buy a good quality helmet that fits, here’s how you should wear it:
- It should sit flat on top of your head.
- It should cover your forehead, and should not tilt sideways, front or back.
- The straps should form a V beneath your chin, extending from right under your ears.
- The chinstrap should be beneath your chin, and not on your jaw or any other part of your face.
- When strapped in you should be able to fit one finger between the strap and your chin.
- If your helmet feels a little big, helmet pads can help provide a tighter fit.
What to Do After a Bike Accident with a Car
Accidents happen, even when you are careful and have your bike helmet on. If you are ever involved in a cycling accident with a car there are certain things you should do. Remember, failing to do these things could land you in trouble, so read this section carefully.
Your first reaction after the accident is likely to be shock, fear, and confusion. This is completely normal and to be expected. Take a moment to gather yourself, and then without wasting any time check to see whether you may be in danger from other oncoming vehicles from either side of the road.
Get yourself off to the side off the road if you can, and check to see whether you are injured. You may have a broken bone or two, so it’s very important to minimize movement.
The next steps are very vital, and may have legal implications:
- Stay on scene until the police arrive. Leaving the scene of an accident is a crime, so if you can, contact the police and let them know your location. With any luck, onlookers will also have called the police, so they should be there within a few minutes.
- Make sure to write an accident report for the police. If you need to collect insurance from the accident this document will be vital, and it can also be a big help if you end up in court.
- Get the contact information of the other driver, as well as his insurance details. If there are any witnesses to the accident get their details as well, in case the other driver disputes your version of events.
- Go to the hospital, however minor your injuries may seem. What may seem like a small bruise or scratch can develop into a serious injury over the next day or two, so you should get a doctor to look at you and do the necessary scans to ensure you are in no danger, and there is no internal bleeding. Let your treating physician know you were in an accident so that she can document your injuries.
- Contact a lawyer. Never assume that the driver of the car that hit you is a nice person. They may have seemed nice and apologetic after the accident, but to ensure that you don’t take unnecessary blame, and get rightful compensation, get a lawyer to document your story and give you advice on what you should do next.
- Keep evidence intact, as you will need it for insurance and/or compensation. You may also need it if you go to court. You shouldn’t repair your bike. Keep it somewhere safe, and make sure to take photos of all the damage.
What to Do After a Bike Crash
It’s the rare cyclist who doesn’t crash from time to time. A crash is when you fall off your bike all by yourself. It can be because you were speeding, the road is full of ruts, something startles you, you hit an unseen obstacle – there are so many ways you can end up crashing off your bike.
Serious injuries due to bike crashes are rare, because they don’t involve another vehicle. However, that’s not to say that they don’t happen. Cyclists sometimes find themselves with broken bones from crashing off their bikes.
If you find yourself involved in a bike crash, here’s what you should do:
- Stop and take stock. Your temptation may be to jump back onto your bike and keep going. You should stop and take a few minutes to assess the damage on yourself and your bike. You may insist on getting back on right away only for you to pass out from pain sometime later.
- Check your helmet for damage. If your helmet is damaged, there is a chance that you injured your head. You may not feel any pain immediately, but you shouldn’t take any chances. If your helmet is cracked or broken don’t continue cycling. Call for an ambulance and have a doctor check you out.
- See whether you have a concussion. Try and remember something in the recent past (do you know where you are, where you’re going, coming from), and something in the distant past (do you remember reading this post). If you feel confusion or dizziness, or you vomit, you should call for help and stay still until it arrives.
- Feel your body for injuries, and if there are any do some basic first aid before you get back on the road. The most likely injuries are scrapes and bruises on your arms and legs. Attend to them so that they don’t get infected.
If you establish that you are okay, and have suffered no serious injuries, you can proceed to check your bike. Check the brakes and shifters. If they moved, you can push them back into place until you get home and give them a more thorough check. Check if the derailleur is bent because it can snap. Check the chain to see if it froze during the crash, or snapped. If your bike has any sort of major damage don’t risk getting back on it – you might crash again.
- If the frame of the bike is bent, you shouldn’t ride it anymore until it’s fixed. Find alternative means to your destination.
- Make sure to always carry a basic crash kit. It should include a multi-tool, a few spare chain links, a spare tire tube, a portable bike pump, first aid supplies (bandage, splint, Band-Aids, antiseptic).
- Make sure you have the right apps on your phone, in case you need to be found after a crash.
Bike Helmet Law(US)
When we talk about helmet safety, it helps to look at helmet safety laws in the US. Remember in the beginning we said that only half the states have laws that require cyclists to wear helmets. In some states, laws only cover minors. In others, laws are adopted in some parts and aren’t enforced in others.
You can check the bike helmet laws here. Wherever you live, you should confirm what the helmet laws are in your jurisdiction.
Bike helmet safety should be second nature for all cyclists. Each time you get on your bike, even if you plan to cycle only a short distance, you should have a good quality helmet strapped to your head. Make sure you’re wearing it correctly and that you have an unobstructed view.
A helmet will reduce your chances of serious injury in the event of an accident. However, once a helmet has been involved in an accident it isn’t safe for you to wear anymore. Dispose of it and buy a new one.
If you are involved in a bike accident make sure that you take the right steps afterward to minimize further injuries and make sure that you stay on the right side of the law.