Arizona needs a law requiring adult bicycle riders to wear a helmet!
Have you ever known somebody who was injured in a car accident? What do you think his attitude about seat belts was after they saved his life? If you knew that a seat belt would save your life, you would buckle up! It took years of legislation and public awareness campaigns to make seat belt use mandatory. Now a new topic regarding public safety is coming to light: people are dying or becoming seriously injured in seemingly minor accidents on bicycles when the rider’s head strikes the concrete.When the head is unprotected “the brain continues to move in a forward motion while the skull stops moving” (Macyko1), causing trauma. What is needed is a way to protect the brain “by absorbing the energy from the impact, buying extra time for the brain to slow down” (Macyko1). Bicycle riders need to wear helmets to protect their brains from injury, yet unfortunately the public is simply not aware of this need and many people will continue to die or be seriously injured unless something is done. Bicycle helmets save lives and should be required by Arizona State law for riders of all ages.
Opponents feel that bicycle helmet laws are too strict and are misdirected. Principally, they feel that helmet laws do not prevent accidents and point out the fact that “motor vehicles are involved in 90-92% of bicyclist deaths” (BHSI/Compendium 4). Creating awareness among drivers by lowering their speeds would create a safer cycling environment. Furthermore, opponents of helmet laws believe that “requiring motorists to wear helmets will save more lives” (Convissor 1) since statistics show the likelihood of fatality while riding in passenger cars is nearly double that of bicycling (Bicycle 15). They are also concerned for the overall popularity of their sport when helmet laws go into effect. After helmet laws went into effect in Australia, “surveys in Sydney found the helmet law reduced cycling by 38%” (Convissor, 1). Another issue is the argument that helmets are inconvenient and uncomfortable.
The opponents of helmet laws seem to have a good argument. Helmet use cannot prevent an accident and Department of Transportation statistics indicate seventy five percent of bicycle related deaths are in collisions with motor vehicles (American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons 2), which implies the real problem is with automobile drivers causing accidents with bikes. Preventing accidents with cars would reduce the need for bicycle riders to wear helmets. The risk of fatality is measured by the Department of Transportation and calculated per million hours of exposure to various activities. The statistics show that the risk of fatality for bicycle riding is .26 while riding in passenger cars is nearly double at .47 (Bicycle 15) indicating again that “requiring motorists to wear helmets will save more lives” (Convissor 1). Another legitimate concern is that a law requiring helmet use could cause the number of bikers to decline. If a helmet law will reduce the number of riders then is it worth passing? Bicycle use has many positive aspects, such as reducing pollution levels and decreasing the amount of automobile traffic, not-to-mention that bicycle riding is fun, promotes a healthy lifestyle, and is an efficient means of transportation. Most big cities encourage bicycle use as an alternative to driving to work. The last thing anybody wants is to reduce the number of bicycles. Another factor is comfort and convenience. When bicycle helmet laws first went into effect in Maryland in 1990 (BHSI/CDC 1), helmet designs were indeed awkward, causing helmets to be big, uncomfortable and inconvenient.
While helmets do not prevent accidents, they do increase rider safety. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “ninety-seven percent of bicyclists killed in 1997 reportedly weren’t wearing helmets” (BHSI/Compendium 2), and “head injury is the primary cause” (Macyko 1) of death. There is no legitimate comparison between the safety of automobile passengers and bicycle riders because automobile passengers are surrounded by a heavy metal car frame, they are strapped in with a safety belt, and for further protection many motorists have airbags that will cushion the blow in an accident. Bicyclists on the other hand have absolutely no protection in a crash. Numerous studies show “that bicycle helmets can reduce head injuries by up to ninety-five percent” (American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons 2) making helmets the “single most effective counter measure available” (National 2).
There is no need to be concerned over helmet laws permanently reducing the number of cyclists. Studies in Melbourne, Australia have shown a 30-60% decline in bicycle use immediately after their helmet law went into effect in 1992 (International 1), however the decline was found to be temporary, lasting only 2-3 months (Third 4). This is because bike riders need time to adjust to helmets or need time to purchase a good helmet and learn how to use it correctly. The temporary reduction in the number of riders is worth the overall benefit of fewer head injuries and fewer deaths from bicycle accidents.
Helmet designs have come a long way since 1990 and are no longer large, uncomfortable or expensive. As with any new product, the style, comfort and cost have improved over time. In an attempt to win customers where helmets are not required by law, helmet manufacturers have made helmets smaller and more stylish, to the point where “most riders regard helmets as a fashion item rather than a safety appliance” (BHSI/Mandatory 5). There are optional drink dispensers attached as well as optional rear-view mirrors. The new designs are more comfortable than ever, and offer a higher level of protection than older models, and the prices have dropped dramatically (Bell Bike Helmets 1). A new helmet costs only around $10. If financially challenged people cannot afford a helmet; there are many programs that local police departments and local rotary clubs have organized to give a free helmet to those in need (Collaboration 3).
The state of Arizona should pass legislation requiring bicycle riders of all ages to wear a protective helmet. In other nations where helmet use is mandatory it has been proven that “helmets reduce head injuries by 70%” (International 1). Studies in Australia, where helmets are required by law, have shown bicyclist fatalities to decreased 60% and the number of serious injuries decreased 21% (Third 3). “Bicycle Helmets are 80-85% effective in mitigating head and brain injuries in all types of bicycle incidents, making the use of helmets the single most effective countermeasure available to reduce head injuries and fatalities”(National 2). Bicycle Helmets reduce injury and save lives. Since “the use of helmets the single most effective countermeasure available to reduce head injuries and fatalities” (National 2), the state of Arizona should pass legislation to protect it’s bicycle riders.
American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons Position Statement “Helmet Use by Motorcycle
Drivers and Passengers, and Bicyclists”. Dec. 1992. 24 Jan 1999 http://www.aaos.org/wordhtml/papers/position/mhelmet.htm
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Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute. Mandatory Helmet Laws: A Summary. BHSIDOC#513
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“Collaboration for Safe Bicycling”. Building Bridges Electronic Newsletter. 1:3 (Fall 1994)
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Convissor, Daniel. Mandatory Bicycle Helmet Legislation? July 98. 3 Jan 1999
The International Pro-Choice Bicycle Helmet Coalition. “Results of Helmet Laws”. 24 Jan 1999.
Macyko, LCDR (USN). “A Bicycle Helmet Could Save Your Life”. Navy Health Book.
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