Monday, July 2, 2007

I Am So Smart...S-M-R-T

They say that the United States is the land of the Free and the home of the Brave. Fitting with this reputation, it seems that a number of American cyclists view helmet use as somewhat akin to religion or politics or any number of personal choices we are fortunate enough to be able to make for ourselves in this country. You are free to wear one or not and you surely must be brave to ride without one but head, my life, my choice. In theory, this is a wondeful thing. And it is usually a good thing in practice as well, but unfortunately many Americans are idiots.

With that said, it is a free country and I learned long ago that it is pointless to argue such choices with most people. I also learned that personally incomprehensible decisions are not usually a direct reflection of overall intelligence. People make choices for personal reasons and as long as it doesn't affect me, why should I care right? And who am I to judge anyway?

Well, instead of telling you why I am willing be so critical by myself, I figured I would collect a little data and let the numbers do most of the talking. The truth is that not wearing a helmet is actually a pretty public choice and a fairly costly one at that. IN FACT:
Direct costs of cyclists' injuries due to not using helmets are estimated at $81 MILLION each year.

Indirect costs of cyclists' injuries due to not using helmets are estimated at $2.3 BILLION each year.

Your head, your life, your money? I know it's not a 1-1 cost to me personally but the numbers are staggering. Sadly, many safety laws are finally driven into effect not purely as a result of potential lives saved but also the potential "cost to society" savings. As a greater economic trickle down effect of people generally living slightly longer, slightly healthier, slightly more PRODUCTIVE lives, society as a whole benefits. Even if it means getting a ticket for not buckling your seatbelt or jaywalking. Makes sense to me but I guess we can afford 2.3 Billion because it will be a long time before there are far-reaching bicycle helmet laws.
Every dollar spent on a bike helmet saves society $30 in direct medical and additional costs.
While it is helpful to see information in this statistical context, sadly, a quantifiable financial burden is meaningless when considering the emotional and psychological toll on society. As myopic as we humans are, we don't live in a vacuum and we certainly don't ride in one. Only a fool believes that our actions are independent. Almost everything we do affects others and the reality is that we as cyclists are in a near constant dance with traffic, potholes, prairie dogs, other riders and any number of other road hazards that threaten to take us down at any time. WE KNOW THIS.

And yet...

Death rates for male bicyclists age 20-54 have substantially increased in recent years.

...despite the fact that...
619 bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles in 2003. This is 7 percent fewer than in 2002 and down 38 percent since 1975.

...but then again...

Eighty-five percent of bicyclists killed in 2003 reportedly weren't wearing helmets.

Even though more people are wearing helmets these days and death rates are going down overall, it is sadly my demographic that is experiencing an increase in the rate of fatality. Using the statistics above, it can therefore be inferred that the majority of these deaths could have been avoided by using a helmet.

This is the demographic of sons, brothers and fathers. The guys who are essentially in their prime, young enough to stay active in a dangerous sport and hopefully aware enough to set a good example for their kids, friends, relatives, co-workers and basically anyone with a brain worth protecting. But our death rates are INCREASING. Are there that many fools out there? YES.

EXAMPLE: I always laugh when I see the Highway Patrol commercials warning about getting a ticket for not wearing a seatbelt. Last time I checked it was 2007! Seatbelts are still an issue? Seriously? Do people still drive without them on? In 2007? They should have their licenses revoked permanently because this has to be one of the most ridiculous examples of recklessness and a general disregard for safety. I'm serious, they should lose their driving privileges for being this foolish and dangerous. Because they won't take a half a second to put a seatbelt on.

But apparently seatbelt use still is a concern. To the point that they needed to make commercials about it. But they don't go for the tired old "This Incredibly Simple Act Can Save Your Life" routine, they go straight to the wallet and the sirens with Five-O. Driving in a car is unquestionably the most dangerous thing most of us ever do and in a true testament to human arrogance, I am certain that the majority of people are more afraid of a ticket than the possible result of not wearing a seatbelt. It terrifies me that these people are on the roads I ride and drive on. Terrifies me.

All the more reason to wear a helmet. I don't trust anyone behind the wheel of a car.

Please DO NOT ENJOY these Basic Numbers from many sources:

784 bicyclists died on US roads in 2005. 92% of them died in crashes with motor vehicles (720).
About 540,000 bicyclists visit emergency rooms with injuries every year. Of those, about
67,000 have head injuries, and 27,000 have injuries serious enough to be hospitalized.
1 in 8 of the cyclists with reported injuries has a brain injury.

Two-thirds of the deaths are from traumatic brain injury.
A very high percentage of cyclists' brain injuries can be prevented by a helmet, estimated at anywhere from 45 to 88 per cent.
Many years of potential life are lost because about half of the deaths are children under 15 years old.

Health Care Costs and Savings

The total annual cost of traffic-related bicyclist death and injury among children ages 14 and under is more than $2.2 billion.

Every dollar spent on a bike helmet saves society $30 in direct medical costs and other costs to society.

If 85 percent of all child cyclists wore bicycle helmets in one year, the lifetime medical cost savings could total between $109 million and $142 million.

CONCLUSION: Without getting into issues of personal freedom, the reality of the helmet use debate is that there is really only one intelligent decision. It's not really even a debate. There is a smart, responsible side and there is a foolish, irresponsible side. And the helmet-less side will always come out as the loser. Whether in a discussion or on the road.
Which side are you on?


AdamB said...

Of course I always buckle my seat belt and almost always wear a helmet, but:

It's obviously totally an issue of personal freedom. Your statistics regarding costs "to society" are misleading because it is probable that most of those costs accrue to the individual making the decision whether or not to wear a helmet.

Seat belt legislation is a total fraud perpetrated by insurance companies. Australia instituted helmet laws and saw that head injuries did in fact decrease--due to decreased ridership.

God bless America, the land where we're still free to be idiots.

Nancy Toby said...

Thank you for the PSA.

It makes me crazy to see the Tour riders train helmetless:

Olaf Vanderhoot said...

your first picture is why i wear a helmet, always.

i don't want some 11-year old seeing me without a helmet, in my fancy-pants kit, and think it's cool to go skidlidless.

because at 12, he won't have the skillz to avoid that pole, car, door opening up.

and man, i don't want that on me. i want that kid thinking that wearing a helmet is cool.

because it is.

Jeremy T. Arnold said...

I believe that there is a significant cost to society regardless of who is personally footing the medical bills. But I do recognize the weaknesses of these statistics and am willing to overlook them. I would feel the same way with or without them.

Additionally, people that choose not to ride because of helmet laws will not be missed by this individual. I understand that the industry is hurt by this but...reading death statistics probably doesn't help either.

Seat belt legislation is a fraud? Really? I'm no big fan of insurance companies but...really?

I too am baffled by any Pro rider that is EVER seen without a helmet. Their team's helmet sponsor should ask for all of their money and merchandise back. As a business man, I would view any photograph without a team-issue helmet the same as riding another sponsor's bike or wearing another team's clothing. Inexcusable.

Finally, I love that shot of the little Swift kid leading out Fast Freddie and the Clif-Bar guy. Does anyone really want this youngster to ride without a helmet? Ever?

The statistics on child death rates and helmet use make me sick. Every parent that lets their kid ride down the block without a helmet should be charged with child-abuse or something.

Just like Whitney says, "I believe the Children are our Future."

Oh and "Crack is Whack."

What does it say for our world when the former wife of Bobby Brown is a voice of reason?


Velovera said...

Sadly, it's all about the "peli-do". Makes me sick that even on my team there is one in particular who won't wear one. We scream and yell at him and despite having a 1 year old daughter, he still doesn't wear one. : (

I feel naked without it just like I feel naked without my seat belt.

I sent this along to many of my friends... even though we all wear our helmets.

Velovera said...

PS what about the motorcyclists here in CO? Shocking to see no helmets. Yesterday in Jamestown I saw a teenager with a cig hanging out of his mouth on his moto with no helmet. FAB!

Jeremy T. Arnold said...

I can't speak to the motorcyclists that ride without helmets in CO but if you saw that dude in Jamestown, I'm thinking that may not have been a cigarette.

Bitch Kittie said...

Natural Selection?
I hate to say that, but well. . .I'm going to put it on the table.
I live in Verona, Wisconsin. The roads may be a bit busy but the goods are cool enough to roll the Wisconsin Ironman through my city twice. (WE have to plan ahead 'cause you ain't goin NOWHERE that day). The thing is if they're stupid enough to not wear a helmet on a cycle, moped or motorcycle, I'll pay $30 to get them off the streets. Is that nasty? Maybe. They aren't a role model for my kids and apparently not the brightest crayon in the box. I've watched smarter go for less.
Peace Out