Doctors stress helmet use to keep cyclists safe

Doctors stress helmet use to keep cyclists safe
Doctors say using helmets when bicycle riding can save lives.
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Simple fun is leading to serious consequences for a growing number of children hit by vehicles while riding their bikes.

Doctors are warning parents they're simply not doing enough to keep their kids safe.

"I was hit by a car last August," says veteran bicyclist Levi Jamison. "I didn't have a helmet on at the time."

It was an unusual lapse for Levi, who ran a bike messenger service and always wore his helmet. He was just in a rush that day and forgot it, he says.

"My immediate thought as I was going in an ambulance was, 'I really should have had my helmet on'," Jamison said.

Monday night, two Indianapolis bicyclists were hit by cars. Last month, two boys were hit on the same weekend. Neither had helmets. One still suffers serious brain trauma.

Dr. Robert Blankenship with the St. Vincent Hospital emergency room in Fishers says "We're seeing life-threatening and life-ending injuries from head injuries."

Emergency rooms see a half-million patients from bike injuries each year. Half of them are kids - around 700 a day.

Of those who die in bike wrecks, 70 percent die of a head injury.

"Ninety percent of that 70 percent who are dying, we could potentially not have that at all if they would simply put a helmet on," said Blankenship.

Aubrey Siehl at Bicycle Garage Indy inside old City Market says bike helmets "should fit snug, kind of like a baseball cap when it's on your head."

Only about half of all bicyclists wear helmets. Experts say parents not setting the example is one reason. 

If you don't grow up wearing a helmet, you may be less likely to wear one as an adult. But the consequences can be devastating.

"Doctors told him straight up he would not be here if he didn't have his helmet on," said Siehl.

He is talking about a friend recently hit by a vehicle. Siehl says helmets save lives, but they must be worn properly. Have your head measured and buy the correct size helmet.

"First thing most people do wrong is they put it like this," he said, tilting the helmet back on the head and exposing the forehead and temples.

Wear it level, he says. You should be able to fit two fingers between the bridge of the nose and the brim of the helmet.

Make sure the chin clip doesn't pinch, but the fit must be snug. The helmet can't rock back and forth. You should be able to put a flat finger between the strap and your throat without choking yourself.

"A loose helmet can equal a great amount of injury," Siehl said.

Fun colors and designs may make it easier to get kids into helmets.