Yes, it’s true. It’s time for the kids to dust off their bikes—and their bike helmets.With the warmer weather now approaching, I wonder if I will have to revisit a discussion I had with my older son last fall. Noticing some young people on bikes, many without protective gear, my son informed me that “hardly anyone” bothers to wear bike helmets “these days.”
“So why do I have to?” he asked.
The state law requiring bikers and bike passengers under age 14 to wear helmets was enacted in 2004 in response to some sobering numbers. More than 2,000 New Yorkers are hospitalized for bike-related injuries each year, and nearly 75 percent of all bike injuries nationwide involve head injuries. Onondaga County has required everyone under 18 to wear helmets when biking, in-line skating, riding scooters and skate boarding since 2001.
So, to my son, I replied, “It’s for your own good. Millions of injuries are avoided every year because of the helmets.”
He sighed. He wasn’t buying it.
So then I said, “You will wear a helmet … because I said so. That’s all there is to it!”
Looking in the rearview mirror, I saw him roll his eyes, unconvinced. When we got back home, I sat him down, and told my tale. Again.
When I was a kid, helmets were not required. And bicycles ruled back then. They were not the fancy, overpriced rides they are today. They were, quite simply, an extension of the kid-self. I learned to ride when I was 5, and I probably rode every single snow-less day until I got my driver’s license. Bikes were how my friends and I navigated the pre-electronic-gadget-world.
My old neighborhood was made for bikes. I lived on a quiet residential street with lots of other kids and lots of stay-at-home moms to look out for us. We rode up and down the street on our banana-seat cruisers and the cars avoided us.
As my friends and I got older, we expanded our territory to the surrounding streets without fear. We put playing cards in our spokes for cool motorcycle sound effects. We contemplated forming our own “kid police force” to clamp down on drivers who went too fast in our biking territory. Our younger siblings survived us pulling them in wagons with our bikes—going way too fast and bound only by whatever wire or string combination we snuck out of our houses. Among us, we had every kind of bell, basket and flag the local drugstore had to offer.
One November day, when I was in fourth grade, we raced our bikes down the nearby small hills. We felt free going so fast! Then, on one run, my front tire hit something in the road. One of my friends looked back as my front tire hit her rear one. She continued on down the hill; I did not.
From there, things get a little hazy. I’m told I flew over my handlebars, headfirst into the road. A neighbor revived me as a couple of my friends went to get my parents. The younger kids ran home, scared by all the blood.
I was sick all the way to the hospital, but the effects of the concussion wore off quickly. Although I had an X-ray in the emergency room to check for fractures, the ER docs did not advise a CAT scan because I had been unconscious only a few minutes. My parents were told to watch me closely for a week or so.
My battered shoulder was in much better shape by the end of the weekend. My minor skull fracture healed well; even the scar faded eventually. The broken nose set very badly (which did nothing to make my teen years any easier!), and it would be 25 years, another accident, and surgery before that was fixed.
I was very lucky. But there seemed to be some lingering side effects from my fall. When I went back to school, I began struggling with work I once found easy. Going to school with a smashed-up face was no fun either, and my personality changed from outgoing and confident to something more guarded.
I went on to have two more minor concussions before I hit 20 (neither one involved a bike). So, it’s hard to know if anything really changed for me on that day 30 years ago, but I can’t help but wonder.
My son sighed again at the conclusion of my tale. He was SO over my “bike helmet story.” Since none of my injuries required a cast, they were not really exciting enough to convince him.
“Oh, Mom,” he said, exasperated. “You’re fine now. So, what’s the big deal? I wouldn’t have even fallen off my bike!”
“Maybe not, dear boy,” I thought, chuckling at his youthful bravado. But I love the person he is now too much to risk damage to him—any part of him—just to avoid looking “uncool.” So, when he gets his bike out of the garage this spring, his helmet will be securely on his head. Because I said so.
Award-winning writer Tammy DiDomenico lives in DeWitt with her husband and two sons.
Buying a HelmetThe New York State Department of Health recommends purchasing helmets tested and approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) or the Snell Memorial Foundation. This information is found on the box or inside the helmet itself.
One of children’s most common complaints about bicycle helmets is about getting a comfortable fit. It is important to take the time to adjust the straps properly. A well-fitted helmet should cover the top of your child’s forehead, and it should only move slightly in any direction when gently pushed with your hand. If the helmet moves easily, it’s not the right size or brand for your child. Always have your child try the helmet on before purchasing.
The State of New York also recommends that a helmet be replaced after a single fall. Damage is not always apparent after a fall, and a damaged helmet offers inadequate protection.
The Onondaga County Bicycle Coalition offers reduced-price, safety-approved helmets for some county residents. Call 435-3280 for more information.