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Friday, February 4, 2011

Bicycle Helmets - There's Safety in Numbers

Dr. Brian Goldman is a veteran ER physician and one of Canada's most trusted medical broadcasters. He has been an award-winning medical reporter for CBC Television's The Health Show and The National. He's also known across Canada as the host of CBC Radio One's "White Coat, Black Art."

When was just starting out as an ER physician, I can remember the day a teenager was brought by paramedics to the hospital.  A passerby found him sprawled beside his bicycle.  He was semiconscious and had telltale swelling and bruising on one side of his head.  Right before my eyes, he became deeply comatose and developed profound weakness on the side of his body opposite to that of the swelling in his scalp.

I knew my patient was in deep trouble.  Fortunately, the paramedics remained at my patient’s bedside as I worked frantically to stabilize him.  I transferred him to a pediatric hospital, and the paramedics drove at speeds above 100 km per hour on city streets to get him there in time. 

The good news is that neurosurgeons were able to operated to remove an extradural hematoma, a collection of blood inside my patient’s skull.  He made a complete recovery.  Without timely transportation and skilled surgeons, my patient would surely have died.

Other patients aren’t quite so lucky.  The main reason is that far too many Canadians venture onto the roads without wearing a bicycle helmet.  According to the Canadian Community Health Survey, just 4.1 million or 36% of the more than 11.4 million Canadians age 12 and older who ride a bicycle wear a proper helmet at all times. 

That is why I support the use of health indicators that will measure the effectiveness of laws and regulations that require cyclists to wear helmets.  Injuries are the leading cause of death and disability for Canadian children and youth.  Major causes of injury include bicycle and motor vehicle crashes.  When you see the impact of trauma on the lives of patients and their families, you understand that the only 100% effective way to deal with injuries is to prevent them. 

Although helmets can reduce the risk of head injury by 85%, safety campaigns are not enough.  Looking at bicycle helmet laws is a great place to begin, since mandatory bicycle helmet laws have been shown to increase the use of helmets and have reduced head injuries.  Several provinces have mandated the use of bicycle helmets.  Some require the use of helmets at all ages, while others require their use in kids under the age of 18 only.  By comparing injury rate in these different jurisdictions, we can monitor the effectiveness of bicycle helmet laws.   

Other health indicators from CIHI and Statistics Canada that have a bearing on safety include mortality rates, hospitalizations, and the percentage of cyclists who wear a helmet. 

By focusing on bicycle helmets and laws requiring them, we’re making things safer for Canadians.  And, we’re reducing the carnage in our emergency departments. 

Key Words: Health Indicators, Health Promotion

1 comment:

  1. Bike riding is a lot of fun, but accidents happen. The safest way to use your bike is for transportation, not play. Every year, about 300,000 kids go to the emergency department because of bike injuries, and at least 10,000 kids have injuries that require a few days in the hospital. Some of these injuries are so serious that children die, usually from head injuries.
    A head injury can mean brain injury. That's why it's so important to wear your bike helmet. Wearing one doesn't mean you can be reckless, but a helmet will provide some protection for your face, head, and brain in case you fall down.Bike helmets are so important that the U.S. government has created safety standards for them. Your helmet should have a sticker that says it meets standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). If your helmet doesn't have a CPSC sticker, ask your mom or dad to get you one that does. Wear a bike helmet EVERY TIME YOU RIDE, even if you are going for a short ride.

    Your bike helmet should fit you properly. You don't want it too small or too big. Never wear a hat under your bike helmet. If you're unsure if your helmet fits you well, ask someone at a bike store.

    Once you have the right helmet, you need to wear it the right way so it will protect you. It should be worn level and cover your forehead. Don't tip it back so your forehead is showing. The straps should always be fastened. If the straps are flying, it's likely to fall off your head when you need it most. Make sure the straps are adjusted so they're snug enough that you can't pull or twist the helmet around on your head.
    Take care of your bike helmet and don't throw it around. That could damage the helmet and it won't protect you as well when you really need it. If you do fall down and put your helmet to the test, be sure to get a new one. They don't work as well after a major crash.