Other Voices

Summer bicycle riding is great for kids and adults — but wear a helmet

A Fort Worth ordinance requires anyone under 18 to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle.
A Fort Worth ordinance requires anyone under 18 to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle. AP

June marks the beginning of summer, and children will be out enjoying their school break.

One of the delights of summer is bike riding — and yet biking can be dangerous. We need to do all we can to protect our children from avoidable injuries while allowing them to enjoy the freedom and joy bike riding can bring.

One essential way to do this is a bicycle helmet.

The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that in the U.S. more than 900 bicyclists are killed and an estimated 494,000 visit emergency departments each year due to bike-related injuries.

One of the most serious injuries that can occur in a crash is severe brain trauma. The impact of hitting a hard surface moves the brain around in the skull, which can injure the brain.

Consequences can range from no injury to mild concussion to major traumatic brain injury to death.

Children, with their developing brains, are particularly susceptible to these brain injuries.

Helmets, with their layer of crushable foam, protect young brains from this trauma.

The foam layer acts as a shock absorber and dissipates and distributes the energy of impact.

A helmet can also prevent skull fractures and other injuries to the head.

Studies have shown that bicycle helmets work to reduce head injuries.

Of bicyclists who crashed, those wearing helmets had only 15 head injuries and 12 brain injuries for every 100 injuries suffered by those not wearing helmets.

Eighteen months ago, I had a serious bike crash. I suffered a mild concussion, despite the fact that I was wearing a helmet.

I can only imagine what would have happened had I not been wearing the helmet.

One of the reasons my helmet did not protect me as well as it could have is how I had stored it between uses.

I had kept my 30-year-old helmet in my un-air-conditioned garage.

This led to hardening of the foam, and so it was not able to cushion my head as well as it might, although it still protected from serious abrasions and a skull fracture.

While Fort Worth does have an ordinance requiring children under 18 years of age to wear a helmet when biking, the state of Texas does not.

As an adult, it may be your right to decide whether to wear a helmet while biking.

However, we as parents must protect our children for their good and for the good of society overall.

You can protect your child (and yourself) by always wearing a properly fitted, properly stored helmet.

There are organizations in Texas that give away children’s helmets — “Hard Hats for Little Heads,” “Injury-Free Austin” and “Peaks and Ladders” — so affordability is not a barrier to safety.

Let’s commit to making Texas one of the safest places to bike.

Let’s commit to protecting our children with evidence-based strategies.

Let’s be good role models and all wear our helmets!

Catherine Troisi is an epidemiologist at The University of Texas Health Science Center at the Houston School of Public Health.