A caring friend who knows how much time and energy I spend thinking about Jewish summer camp sent an article this morning, about Chasidic kids in Brooklyn urging NY Governor Cuomo to open up sleep-away camps. When I watched the video mentioned in the article, I was sympathetic to their pleas—then concerned. I saw a bunch of kids on bikes and scooters– not a single rider was wearing a helmet. The rabbis seemed unconcerned, or at least unaware of why this is important.
According to an article by the Cleveland Clinic, “All bike riders should wear bicycle helmets. Each year in the United States, about 800 bicyclists are killed and another 500,000 end up in hospital emergency rooms. About 2/3 of the deaths and 1/3 of the injuries involve the head and face. Wearing a helmet can reduce the risk of head injury to bicyclists by as much as 85 percent.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation points out that, over the course of the past few years, only 17 percent of fatally-injured bicyclists were actually wearing helmets. They go on to say that if a bicyclist wears a helmet, he reduces his chance of head injury by 50 percent and his chance of head, face and neck injury by 33 percent.
A Live Healthy article adds, “While 21 states and the District of Columbia require minors to wear helmets when riding a bike, there are no state laws requiring adults to do so. Unfortunately, the latest traffic safety facts published by the U.S. Department of Transportation reveal an astounding 45,000 bicyclists were injured in traffic with 818 reported fatalities in just one year. One way to protect yourself from injury is to wear a helmet whenever you ride, whether the law requires you to do so or not.”
They note five good reasons to wear a helmet:
1. To Protect Your Head and Brain
2. To Set an Example for Children
3. To Show Off Your Style
4. As Protection From the Weather
5. To Make Yourself Seen
Protecting your brain and setting an example for your children are the most compelling reasons. It seems that wearing a helmet while biking—regardless of age—should be a no brainer.
Yet, some argue that a helmet is not always necessary.
In an article –of all places—at biclycling.com, the author, Jen See, mentions riding without a helmet (literally for 10 minutes while riding to get a cup of coffee) and running in to “helmet scolds.” “They’ll tell you at length why you should never ride without one, about the risks and dangers. Don’t you know cycling is perilous, even for seasoned riders? They’ll come armed with statistics and tell you about that one time they crashed unexpectedly while pedaling around the block.” The author notes that, in contrast to the “no helmet” short ride for coffee, he later went for his road ride with his helmet.
See asks a somewhat provocative questions: “Should we always wear a helmet when we ride?” I almost stopped reading, but was curious. I encourage you to read to the end. In short, she points out various articles and studies. Some point to other activities with risks (walking on icy sidewalks and cleaning gutters) where we don’t’ wear helmets. Other articles point out that bike lanes are far more important than helmets for reducing injuries. “A 2015 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 70 percent of cyclist deaths occurred in urban areas. Only 3 percent of those fatalities took place in a bike lane. If you really want to make your road rides safer, joining your local advocacy group, or organizing one to push your city and state for better bike networks, is a great place to start. Simply donning a helmet is no substitute for safer streets.”
See concludes by saying, “It’s up to you to consider the risks and make your own decisions about when to wear a helmet. Maybe that means every time you bike, maybe it doesn’t. I’m not here scold you for your choices. I just want to see you out there enjoying the ride.”
I think I will continue to be a “bike scold,” gently pointing out the importance of helmets. Obviously, I don’t say a word to adults. With kids, it is non-negotiable. Helmut’s are a must! I would welcome the opportunity to explain to the rabbis in Williamsburg—who their talmidim (students) revere—just why helmets are so important. Quite simply, they save lives!