You have made the decision to get out of the house for some physical activity. Good on ya! Cycling, you decided? Or maybe inline skating or even skateboarding (it could happen). Can we assume you want to come back more fit, and in one piece? Good. That means you will be wearing a helmet.
Why wear a helmet? Because a head injury is not something that can happen. It does happen.
Wearing a helmet when cycling is mandatory in British Columbia, but that is not why you should wear it. Wear a helmet because preventing an injury is a far superior alternative to treating (and living with) one.
We know that up to 85 per cent of serious head injuries can be prevented by wearing a helmet. In Canada, about 50 children die every year from bike accidents, three-quarters of which come from head injuries. A non-helmeted rider is 14 times more likely to be killed in a crash than helmeted riders.
In a fall from a bike, the forehead usually hits the ground first, doing the most damage. Despite fears, most bicycling accidents do not happen in collisions with vehicles -only about 20 per cent. Most occur when the bike skidded over unstable ground, a wheel caught in a track or the rider lost control.
A helmet works by absorbing the energy of the impact as your head contacts something solid, often at speed. This reduces the peak energy reaching your brain, and reduces the chance of damage. That is, of course, based on a helmet that is both certified, and fits well.
Certification of bike helmets pretty much guarantees quality. The most common you will find are CSA (Canadian Standards Association), CPSA (Consumer Products Safety Commission) and Snell B90/B95. With one of these stickers affixed, price is almost irrelevant. Style, however, may bump up the price. Fair enough, but a safe helmet need not be the "expensive" one.
Along with certification, fit is the most important criteria for your helmet. It should fit snugly and be worn flat on the head, not tilted back at an angle. A good way to make sure your helmet fits properly is to use the "eye-ear-mouth" test. Adjust the straps so that when you look upward, the front rim should be barely visible to your eye. The "Y" of the side straps should meet just below your ear. And the chinstrap needs to be snug against your chin so that when you open your mouth wide you feel the helmet pull down a little.
There are multitudes of good online sources of information. One especially interesting one is organized much like Consumer Reports, focusing on and being funded by, consumers and users. They are at helmets.org - count on good information, but don't expect glitz.
Some people still do not wear helmets when cycling, skating or skateboarding, but don't let that stop you. You need one, and so do they. They just don't realize it yet.
Dr. Paul Martiquet is the Medical Health Officer for the Sea to Sky.