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Head Injuries and Bicycle Safety

What's the Problem?

Millions of Americans ride bicycles, but less than half wear bicycle helmets. For example, a national survey conducted in 2001-2003 found that only 48% of children ages 5-14 years wore bicycle helmets when riding (1). Further, older children were less likely to wear helmets than younger children.

In 2010 in the U.S., 800 bicyclists were killed and an estimated 515,000 sustained bicycle-related injuries that required emergency department care. Roughly half of these cyclists were children and adolescents under the age of 20 (2). Annually, 26,000 of these bicycle-related injuries to children and adolescents are traumatic brain injuries treated in emergency departments (3).

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Any bicyclist who does not wear a bicycle helmet is at increased risk of head injury.

Can It Be Prevented?

Yes. Wearing a properly fitted helmet every time you and your children ride a bicycle is one important prevention method. If children don't want to wear a helmet, find out why. Some children don't like to wear helmets because they fear they will be teased by peers for being "geeky" or because they think helmets are unattractive, uncomfortable, or hot. Talk about these concerns with children and choose a helmet they will want to wear. Other prevention strategies:

  • Follow the rules of the road:
    • ride on the right side of the road-with the traffic flow, not against it;
    • obey traffic signs and signals just as if you were driving a car;
    • use correct hand signals;
    • stop at all signs and red lights; and
    • stop and look both ways before entering a street;
  • Depending on the laws in your community, children may ride on sidewalks and paths.
  • If riding at dawn, at dusk, or at night, wear reflective clothing (not just light-colored clothing) and make sure that the bike has a front headlight and a rear red reflector or flashing red light.

Tips for Scripts

  • INFORM viewers that thousands of people suffer bicycle-related head injuries each year.
  • EDUCATE viewers that bicycle helmets provide effective protection against head injuries.
  • REMIND parents that they serve as role models to their children, and that if parents wear helmets, their children are more likely to also.
  • ADVISE viewers that head injuries can be devastating, recuperation prolonged; a serious head injury could mean a person would be unable to go to school or work.

Case Examples

  1. A teenager riding a bicycle without a helmet is struck by a car and suffers a serious head injury. He endures months of rehabilitation, with bad headaches, slurred speech and facial scars. He loses confidence in himself, becoming increasingly isolated socially.
  2. A divorced father takes his two young daughters out for a bike ride while they are visiting him on a Saturday. While the mother insists that the children wear helmets, he has never bought any, and he and his daughters ride without them. One daughter falls from her bike, striking her head on the sidewalk. She required stitches and is in great pain. The father feels tremendous guilt.
  3. A ten-year old boy does not want to wear a bike helmet because his friends do not wear them; he thinks it would make him look like a geek. His mother takes him shopping for a helmet; he shows little interest. She chats with a young salesman while her son is browsing out of hearing distance. The young salesman, good-looking, athletic, starts talking to the boy about riding bikes, asking what kind he has and where he rides it. Then he asks what kind of helmet the boy wears. When the boy hesitates, the salesman says, "Come on over here, I'll show you the kind I use." The boy feels flattered and is interested in looking at helmets.
  4. A young girl wants a bike for her birthday but her father knows she doesn't like helmets. He says, "Here's the deal. I'll get you a bike, but it comes with a helmet. If you get on the bike, you put on the helmet. Deal?"
  5. Two boys decide to ride their bikes to the store. One says he has to go upstairs to get his helmet first. Other says not to bother, they're not riding far. The first says he doesn't want to get his brains splattered on the street and goes to get his helmet.

Related Links

References

  1. Dellinger AM, Kresnow MJ. Bicycle helmet use among children in the United States: The effects of legislation, personal and household factors. Journal of Safety Research 2010:41;375-380.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nonfatal Traumatic Brain Injuries Related to Sports and Recreation Activities Among Persons Aged ≤ 19 Years — United States, 2001–2009. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2011: 60(39); 1337-1342.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Page last reviewed: March 18, 2013
  • Page last updated: March 18, 2013
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