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Keep Your Head On

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Summer is upon us and with the gorgeous days tempting us to frolic outdoors you may be tempted to “lose your head.”

Safety is the last thing we want to be bothered with as we head outdoors for whatever fun-in-the-sun that we enjoy. We want to feel the sun on our face, the wind in our hair, and the mental freedom that being outdoors affords us. However, as a healthcare professional, I would beg you to keep your head on. Literally.

It is so tempting to just hop on a bike (motorized or not) and enjoy the summer day. After all, our town is small and traffic is nothing compared to the busy East Coast or other big urban areas.

You may falsely assume that accidents don’t happen often around these parts. And even if you are aware of how often our first responders rescue crash victims, humans have a tendency to presume that “it won’t happen to me.”

Motorcycle rider wearing a helmet

Nobody ever plans to be in an accident. That’s why it’s called an accident.

As you tool around town enjoying the gorgeous Montana summer that has lured so many to love her, I urge you to take two minutes for some basic precautions. I guarantee you that, should the unforeseen occur, having those basic safety measures in place will prevent an unfortunate event from turning into a really bad day or even the worst day ever.

A lot of folks come through the ER after an incident bemoaning that they “should have”… put their helmet on… not taken off their rash guard … made their kid keep their seat belt on.

When you consider the burden of possible crash consequences in your life the inconvenience of an uncomfortable helmet dwindles significantly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration documented that, in 2021, 73% of motorcyclists not wearing helmets in Montana during an accident died.

A picture is worth a thousand words and, if I could, I would publish pictures of what someone’s head looks like after a crash without protective skull gear. I think those images would easily convince most not to risk going helmetless ‘just this once.’ Even if you plan on staying in town at low speeds a helmet can be a literal lifesaver.

However, I have heard some declare that if they get in a crash without a helmet and die, they are fine with it and will be glad they lived ‘fully” (as if wearing a helmet somehow constricts ones’ ability to carpe diem). Death is certainly a tragic outcome but I would argue that there may be an even worse outcome—traumatic brain injury.

This type of injury can change your life in a flash not to mention your family and potential caregivers with long recovery times and chronic health struggles. The CDC reports that “about 50% of people with severe to moderate traumatic brain injury requiring in-patient rehab, will experience further decline in their daily lives or die within 5 years.”

The iconic experience of relishing the wind of freedom on a motorized set of wheels cruising through town is hard to turn down a notch with a helmet but I promise you the iconic experience will be brought to nil if you lose your head because a helmet was too uncool.

It is just as important to wear a helmet on bicycles as well. Especially since a large percentage of bicycle riders are younger. Many institutions have stressed the importance of helmets while on a bicycle, especially the pediatric population. The American College of Surgeons noted in their statement on Bicycle Safety and the Promotion of Bicycle Helmet Use that helmets drastically reduce negative outcomes including a 48% decrease in head injuries for those that cover their heads. For kids who wear helmets their risk of serious head injury is only one-third of their counterparts that do not wear helmets.

Naked noggins are not worth the risk of potential poor outcomes. Do your research on what is safe to wear for head gear and then invest in protecting your most valuable possession—life.

As for the kids, just make a rule that if they’re using wheels (bikes, blades, boards, etc) a helmet is just part of the gear. Kid and teen-friendly accessories are manufactured by companies looking to appeal to a younger audience that can make the helmet wearing less awkward.

Fifty years ago seatbelts were still “uncool” and underutilized. Twenty years ago ski helmets had the same difficulty. Now both are widely accepted as a simple practice with a big safety payout for the accident you didn’t plan. Hopefully motorcycle and bike helmets will eventually join the club of common practice. Enforcing it with your kids (and going along with it yourself) will have big impact in the overall usage.

So keep your head on. Even the best wind in your hair feeling on a brilliant sunny day can’t compare to having the assurance that, with your helmet on, you have a much greater chance of keeping your head.


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