Use your head when bicycling - wear a helmet

By Staff Sgt. Patricia Deal, U.S. Army Europe Public Affairs
April 22, 2010

HEIDELBERG, Germany -- Wearing a Consumer Product Safety Commission-approved helmet while bicycling can reduce head injury risk by 85 percent.

“The number one safety rule is that all riders need to wear a helmet. While wearing a helmet won’t prevent accidents, it will significantly reduce your injury level if you’re wearing one,” said Safety and Occupational Health Specialist Shane Podraza, from the U.S. Army Europe Safety Office. “Studies show that nearly 70 percent of all fatal bicycle crashes involve head injuries, highlighting the importance of wearing a helmet.”

Despite the definite safety benefit of wearing a helmet, Podraza said those same studies show that only 20 to 25 percent of cyclists wear helmets.

More cyclists will wear a helmet when cycling in areas with helmet use laws in place, according to statistics from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. While only a few U.S. states have local ordinances requiring bicyclists to wear helmets, it is a requirement for all cyclists to wear a helmet when riding on military installations in USAREUR.

“One thing for certain is that the MPs and gate guards definitely enforce USAREUR regulations that require bicycle riders—and passengers—to wear a helmet when riding on military installations,” said Crime Analyst Jim Taylor, from the USAREUR Office of the Provost Marshal. “It’s just one means we have to keep riders safe.”

And keeping that helmet on while biking off-post is the smart, and safe, thing to do.

Doctors at USAREUR medical facilities see firsthand the physical and emotional trauma patients suffer from head injuries. Chief Pediatrician Lt. Col. Michael Pelzner, from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, said it’s frustrating for him as he treats many preventable, serious head injuries in children who weren’t wearing a helmet when bicycling or skateboarding.

“Besides the usual bumps and bruises, you can get skull fractures, deep cuts and concussions.  There's not a lot of padding on the outside of the head, and the blood vessels are near the surface so even minor cuts can bleed a lot,” he said. “Falls off a bike or skateboard can occur at significant velocity, increasing the severity of injuries. 

“I can't emphasize enough that kids will adapt to consistent routines and expectations. Parents need to start mandating helmet use as soon as kids start on the tricycle at age three to four, and keep at it.  Teenagers think they are invincible, but often respond when they see or hear about a friend who got hurt, or was even killed, because they didn't wear it while riding a bike,” he said.

Health Center Dental Clinic Non-Commissioned Officer-in-Charge Staff Sgt. April Scales said she believes in the importance of wearing helmets while riding. “I make sure I wear one every time I ride,” she said. “And my son knows the rule ‘no helmet, no riding.’”

Earl (E.J.) Scales, 11, said he always follows his mother’s rule, even though some of his friends don’t always wear a helmet when riding. “I would wear one even if she didn’t nag me. I was in an accident and got pretty banged up, broke my arm. I could have been hurt a lot more if I didn’t wear a helmet,” he said.