SATURDAY, May 15 -- As summer approaches and many Americans start to dust off their bikes, blades and assorted motorized vehicles, the nation's emergency department doctors are trying to direct public attention toward the importance of wearing safety helmets to prevent serious brain injury.
"People are riding bicycles, motorcycles and ATVs [all-terrain vehicles] more often at this time of year," Dr. Angela Gardner, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), said in a news release. She stressed that people need to get in the habit of wearing a certified safety helmet, because it only takes one tragic crash to end a life or cause serious life-altering brain injuries.
Citing National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistics, the ACEP experts note that every year more than 300,000 children are rushed to the emergency department as a result of injuries sustained while riding a bike. Wearing a helmet that meets Consumer Product Safety Commission standards could reduce this figure by more than two-thirds, the organization suggests.
But children aren't the only ones who need to wear helmets. In fact, older riders account for 75 percent of bicycle injury deaths, the ACEP noted. Among bicyclists of all ages, 540,000 seek emergency care each year as a result of an accident, and 67,000 of these patients suffer head injuries. About 40 percent experience head trauma so serious that hospitalization is required.
A properly fitted helmet can prevent brain injury 90 percent of the time, according to the NHTSA, and if all bicyclists between the ages of 4 and 15 wore a helmet, between 39,000 and 45,000 head injuries could be prevented each year.
With May designated as motorcycle safety month, the ACEP is also highlighting the benefits of helmet use among motorcyclists.
"Helmet use is the single most important factor in people surviving motorcycle crashes," Gardner stated in the news release. "They reduce the risk of head, brain and facial injury among motorcyclists of all ages and crash severities."
The ACEP cites NHTSA numbers indicating that in 2008, helmets saved the lives of more than 1,800 motorcyclists -- a figure that could have risen by another 800 lives saved if all motorcyclists wore helmets. Not wearing a helmet increases the risk of dying from a motorcycle-riding head injury by about 40 percent, experts say.
Gardner and colleagues encourage people of all ages to wear helmets every time they go for a ride on a bicycle or motorcycle, but also when roller skating, rollerblading, skateboarding and/or engaging in a high-contact sport.