Increase in bike use brings increase in head injuries

They’re everywhere! It’s bicycle season and riders are taking to the streets and paths in numbers. It’s a carefree way to navigate the city, but doctors say don’t be careless when it comes to safety.

It’s a perfect day for a ride. Cyclists breeze by … some geared up, some not. And at this bike share stand near Millennium Park, a steady stream of customers.

Jay Snyder, Divvy rider: “We want to go to Navy Pier … thought the best thing is to take some bikes.”

But Jay Snyder and Rebecca Zello didn’t think about helmets.

Jay Snyder: “Didn’t even cross my mind.”

Protective head gear wasn’t on Alvin Lee’s mind either.

Alvin Lee, Divvy rider: “Without. I need to look cool.”

Last summer, John Hruska was cooling off on a fast-paced bike ride near his home in Indiana.

John Hruska, bike accident patient: “I took the bike out to go about four or five miles. Never wore a helmet. You had a feeling of comfort and safety, and usually you were in control, so what can happen?”

As he steered his bike over a curb, this happened. His tire popped off the frame.

John Hruska: “I was probably moving 15 miles per hour or faster, and without the wheel the bike comes down and hits the asphalt and it stops, so I had so much momentum I went right over the handle bars.”

John broke his cheekbones and the orbit around his eye. The impact narrowed the spinal canal in his neck – it took him months to regain function in his legs and arms. And there was damage to his brain.

Dr. Jane Kayle Lee, trauma surgeon, Advocate Christ Medical Center: “What we see here is a bleed in the left frontal lobe of the brain.”

It’s an injury Dr. Jane Kayle Lee sees often at Advocate Christ Medical Center’s busy trauma center … and it could have been worse.

Dr. Lee: “The vast majority, so over 80% of the patients who come in for bicycle-related trauma who end up dying, were not wearing a helmet.”

Dr. Lee wants all riders to hear the message, especially as bike share programs gain momentum in cities across the country.

Dr. Lee: “Statistics show bike share program riders are much less likely to wear helmets than other riders.”

The good news …

Dr. Lee: “With bike sharing programs, as there are more cyclists on the road, the overall safety of riders will increase as there is more awareness.”

But when it comes to head injuries, authors of a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health looked at proportion and risk in cities with ride share programs.

Dr. Lee: “What they found was a 14 percent increase in the proportion of head injury in bicycle-related trauma patients.”

The researchers say they can’t directly link the increased risk to lack of helmet use. In Chicago, the Divvy ride share program told us, out of more than 1.6 million Divvy trips served in their first year, they’ve had fewer than 10 incidents reported, none of which were serious. Still, they’re exploring options to make helmets more readily available near stations.

Alvin Lee: “If I had to pay for it I would not, but if it came along with the rental I would take it.”

Rebecca Zello, Divvy rider: “I’d probably feel more safe with a helmet. I don’t feel unsafe without one.”

Mitchell Katler, Divvy rider: “I’m from Canada, so I’m used to the 18 and under helmet law. So for us it’s just like always been on our head, not like a huge change.”

In America, Illinois is one of two states that doesn’t have a bicycle helmet law. Currently, Divvy members receive a 20 percent discount on helmet purchases at participating bike shops. And bike share programs in Boston and Seattle are planning to offer helmet rentals alongside bike share stands.

 

 

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2 comments

  • Edward Douglas

    I am so sick of people in the media pushing more laws. I mountain bike ride every week in palos and do wear a helmet and try and educate about how important it is to wear one. That said, it should be a person’s CHOICE to wear one. It is a little thing linked to freedom called liberty.

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