Do you enjoy cycling? Do you remember your helmet every time you go out? With road cycling accidents on the increase wearing one can help you avoid serious brain injury, writes Margaret Hawkins. Not everyone who cycles wears a helmet and it is not compulsory in Ireland but is that a wise move?
No, according to Acquired Brain Injury Ireland (ABII). If you are looking for proof that it is more than a good idea just think of the 50% increase in fatalities among pedal cyclists in 2017.
The latest recorded injures by the Road Safety Authority also showed that 107 pedal cycle users experienced serious injuries while 755 had minor injuries. Unfortunately there is no record of how many pedal cyclists involved in all these accidents wore helmets. This is in contrast to motorbike and vehicle accidents where seat belt usage and crash helmet use is noted.
“Brain injury is a hidden phenomenon in our society,” says Barbara O’Connell, CEO of ABI Ireland. “It happens to 35 people in this country every day, often leaving them with a chronic and ongoing condition that can affect their lives and those of their family for months, years and even decades after the initial injury.”
An estimated 13,000 people acquire a brain injury every year in Ireland and these can be the result of stroke, assault, concussion, viral infections and road traffic accidents including pedal cycling accidents.
Wearing a helmet when cycling dramatically reduces the risk of a serious head or brain injury in the event of a collision, the CEO says.
“Wearing a helmet reduces the severity of the brain injury by absorbing the impact from the collision. This, in turn, reduces the amount of time a person spends in recovery and rehabilitation. The reality is that regardless of whether people are cycling for leisure or commuting or taking part in a race, unforeseen events can happen that can cause any cyclist to suddenly come off that bike. When that happens, especially if it’s at speed, they will have no control about how they hit the ground or impact their head.”
Brain injuries are not always caused by highly dramatic events either, she points out.
“Many are simply unforeseen. We have seen situations where an individual was cycling home and a pedestrian suddenly stepped out in front of him causing a collision. That individual was not wearing a helmet and is now in a wheelchair going through rehabilitation both physically and to tackle neuro-deficits such as impaired memory and speech.”
The CEO is not making up the importance of a helmet.
Australian researchers in 2016 showed that cycle helmets reduced the risk of serious head injury, for example, by nearly 70% and that of fatal head injury by 65%.
At an international safety conference in Finland they therefore pushed for all countries to develop strategies to improve helmet-wearing as part of any national cycling safety plans. Researchers at Cardiff University in Wales emphasised helmet importance too, finding that they protect riders from skull fractures and brain bruising and swelling. But are helmets turning people off taking up cycling because it gives the impression of a dangerous activity?
Some public health experts have suggested that the emphasis on helmet wear is putting people off taking up cycling and therefore stopping them trying to tackle their obesity problems. The Cochrane Review found no scientific evidence to show that mandatory cycle helmet laws discourage cycling or that cyclists who wear them take more risks on the road.
Acquired Brain Injury Ireland wants to see cycle helmets being compulsory.
“They are proven to be of benefit in preventing serious brain injuries. We would advocate wearing them even for short journeys. Coming off a bike and risking an injury to the head can happen at any time even during a short commuter bike rental or cycle for leisure. In our view, wearing a helmet is a no-brainer. It’s really not worth the risk of going without one.”
Acquired Brain Injury Ireland is Ireland’s leading provider of community rehabilitation for those of working age (18-65) living with and recovering from an acquired brain injury.
Cycling safety booklet from Road Safety Authority
Article provided courtesy of the Irish Farmers Journal.