As most middle-aged people know, perceptions about safety issues have changed considerably since they were kids. When I was a youth back in the 1960s and 1970s, I never owned or wore a helmet when I rode any of my bikes; it just wasn’t part of the public consciousness. And I can’t remember any of my friends wearing a helmet. In retrospect, this shocks me because I sometimes recklessly flew down steep, windy Pennsylvanian hills just east of Pittsburgh. The thought of brain trauma and concussions never crossed my mind. My parents never voiced any concern either.
Fortunately, the few biking accidents I recall having never involved my head hitting the pavement. Some kids are not so lucky. And, of course, even though wearing a helmet does not guarantee that a person of any age will be spared brain damage, proper helmet use reduces the risk of experiencing bad outcomes.
The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute (http://www.helmets.org/stats.htm) references plenty of websites and data that help place children’s bike safety in perspective. The Safe Kids Worldwide website, for example, reports that “Helmets reduce the risk of head injury by at least 45 percent, brain injury by 33 percent, facial injury by 27 percent and fatal injury by 29 percent.” Unfortunately, one study finds that 55 percent of children don’t wear a helmet while bicycling.
As I continued on with my solo ride yesterday I thought about how Phoenix would have reacted had he been with me and seen the family riding without helmets. Based on what he’s said in the past, I can image him saying, “Dad, did you see that? Unsafe! None of them are wearing helmets.” No doubt I’ve imprinted my disapproval of people taking unnecessary risks while biking as well as doing other activities.
I’m highly critical of dads and moms who allow their kids to ride their bikes without helmets. I react similarly to parents who set a bad example by riding without a helmet themselves. In either case, parents should know better, and “care” more. Why take the chance? Oddly, these same parents often strap their kids into car and booster seats. Maybe they do this because it’s the law or perhaps they see cars as potentially more hazardous. Whatever the reason for the inconsistency, they place their children at risk when they allow them to ride bikes without wearing a helmet.
What should a dad do? What can a dad do?
Well, for starters, write a blog to grab other parents’ attention? If one sees a dad or his kids riding without a helmet, he could be bold or rude depending on your perspective, and shout out “helmets save lives” or something similar. I’m probably too reserved for that. However, a dad might be willing to share his concerns with friends and acquaintances who violate the “helmet code.”
Along these lines, two weeks ago I saw a young middle-school girl from my neighborhood riding home with her helmet not on her head, but hooked to her handlebar. Just yesterday, I saw her riding again, this time she had her helmet on but it was unstrapped. I’ve acknowledged this girl a few times on the streets but I don’t really know her. However, I am casually acquainted with her father. I was mute when I saw the girl, but I made a mental note to consider whether I should divulge what I saw to her dad. I haven’t seen the father since these “sightings,” but writing this piece reminds me that I should speak to him. If our circumstances were reversed, I definitely would want him to inform me if he had seen my son riding without a helmet.