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Bicycling: The Sport to Watch Out For


In the past several years, a lot of attention has been given to the traumatic brain injuries or TBIs resulting from football and soccer. Although these sports do lead to a lot of head injuries, the reality is that more TBIs are treated in U.S. Emergency Departments from bicycling than any other sport. According to the Centers for Disease Control, head injuries account for: 62% of all bicycle-related deaths; 33% of all bicycle-related Emergency Department visits; and 67% of all bicycle-related hospital admissions.

With statistics like the above, wearing a helmet while bicycling would seem to be a no-brainer, pardon the pun. Yet according to a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 60% of people who died in bike accidents in 2014 were not wearing a helmet. The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute has estimated that wearing a helmet reduces the risk of head injury by 85%. This figure is disputed by some--most notably bicycle groups who oppose any movement toward mandatory helmet use--but even if helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 65% rather than 85%, wearing a helmet is still better and more protective than not wearing one.

The question, then, is why more cyclists are not wearing helmets. Some experts theorize that the huge benefits of helmet use are simply not known to enough bicycle riders. Accordingly, they recommend community outreach and educational programs to increase the number of cyclists who wear helmets. Other experts see the issue as one of accessibility and availability of helmets, particularly with respect to the average commuter and bike share programs.


The bulky, geeky-looking bike helmets of old have been replaced by the sleek, professional and almost futuristic-looking helmets of today. And as with so much of sports gear, they are almost fashionable. But more importantly, today's helmets have new technology that makes them more effective. Multi-directional Impact Protection System, or MIPS, is a thin, low-friction liner inside the helmet that allows the outer shell to slide a few millimeters across the skull on impact, reducing rotational force and the amount of energy transferred to the head. Although the Consumer Product Safety Commission has not definitively stated an impact threshold that triggers a concussion, it has acknowledged that rotational force is a prime factor in concussions. Consumer Reports August 2016 edition reports testing numerous helmets with MIPS and without it, and their conclusion: even if the benefit of MIPS in bicycle helmets is not definitively quantified, it is worth the extra cost.


Bike share programs have become increasingly popular in cities throughout the U.S. For the most part, the programs boast great safety records. However, the issue of affordable and accessible helmets for these programs has never been resolved. For those who plan ahead to use the bike share programs, bringing a helmet would be included in the planning; e.g. for a commute to a job or a day on a bike trail, a helmet is carried along. But tourists who spontaneously decide to take advantage of a bike share program would not have a helmet with them. Similarly, some commuters may find it difficult to handle bulky sporting equipment in addition to other work materials on a bike.

There are several ways of addressing this conundrum. One is the development of folding helmets. There are two currently on the market. Fitting a helmet into a shoulder bag or backpack would increase the likelihood that people who decide to cycle would have and wear a helmet. Another avenue is to offer helmets at the site of the bike rentals. An MIT startup called HelmetHub, launched in the fall of 2013, introduced helmets for rent and sale at kiosks at Hubway stations in Boston. When a cyclist is finished with a Hubway bike, they can place the rental helmet in the kiosk at the station closest to their final destination. Seattle, which has a mandatory helmet law, also offers helmets for rent next to its bicycles. (It also has a locked bin of helmets next to each bike share station that members can access for free by putting in a code).

Mandatory helmet laws may be the next avenue to explore for other participating bike share program cities, or PBSP cities. The debate over whether to require the extra level of protection afforded by helmets is reminiscent of the debate that led up to requiring seat belts to be worn; some argue wearing a helmet is a personal decision while others argue that the severe head injuries and fatalities that are more likely in accidents when one is not worn impact all of society in terms of cost, lost productivity and resources used.


If you or a loved one has been injured in a bicycle accident, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free evaluation of your legal rights.

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Thomas Law Firm
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