In the past, we have written about sports related head injuries and the dangers of concussion. In that article, we outlined how not all concussion injuries are immediately apparent and we highlighted symptoms to watch out for that may indicate a latent head injury. Here we take a look at cycling related injuries.
Sports Related Head Injuries in the News
Football related head injuries have been very much in the news lately and are getting even more attention since Will Smith's new movie, Concussion, was released on December 25th. Concussion tells the true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the medical whistle-blower who blew the lid on the high incidence of brain damage and depression in both retired and current NFL players.
In fact, the first page of results of a Google news search for the term ‘sports related head injuries' is dominated by posts and articles related to football related head injury. It may come as a surprise then, that football is not the main culprit when it comes to head or brain trauma. That dubious honor belongs to cycling which, in 2009, caused more head injuries than football, baseball and softball combined.
Baseball and Softball: 38,394
Those figures are mirrored in the sports related head injuries of children under 14 with cycling again way outstripping football for reported head injuries.
Baseball and Softball: 18,246
Local and National Cycling Related Injury
There were 743 fatal cycling accidents in the US in 2013, and at least 48,000 injuries. We know the number of injuries is actually far higher because research has shown that police record only a fraction of cycling accidents, possibly as low as 10%.
The most often cited cause of accidents involving bicycles are car collision, falling from the bike, poor road condition and rider error or distraction. Alcohol is often a factor both in reducing the attention and reaction capability of vehicle drivers and in causing cyclists to take undue risks.
Cycling Fatalities in Oregon and Washington
In 2013, there were 3 cyclists killed in Oregon. In Washington, in the same year, 11 cyclists died. While any number of preventable deaths is too many, these figures pale in comparison to cyclist fatalities in Florida and California which numbered, respectively, 133 and 141. Even given the larger populations of these states, cyclists deaths as percentage of the traffic fatalities is high.
Cycling Deaths as a Percentage of Traffic Fatalities
Cycling with Safety
There are a number of local and national government initiatives aimed at making cycling safer for everyone. In some states for example, the wearing of cycling helmets is mandatory. Others have age related requirements like Oregon, where all cyclists under the age of 16 must wear a safety helmet and if they do not then the parent or guardian is held responsible.
Washington is one of the few states where there is no state-law requiring helmet use. Even so, each city and county in Washington can issue its own regulations for cyclists to wear helmets within town boundaries. Vancouver is one such city–requiring both adults and children to wear a helmet when biking in a public area.
Public safety information and awareness campaigns also play their part in reducing cycling related injuries. The following safety guidelines issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are an example:
Safe Cycling Guidelines
- All bicyclists should wear properly fitted bicycle helmets every time they ride. A helmet is the single most effective way to prevent head injury resulting from a bicycle crash.
- When cycling in the street, bicyclists are considered vehicle operators; they are required to obey the same rules of the road as other vehicle operators, including obeying traffic signs, signals, and lane markings.
- When cycling in the street, cyclists must ride in the same direction as traffic.
- Drivers of motor vehicles need to share the road with bicyclists. Be courteous—allow at least three feet of clearance when passing a bicyclist on the road, look for cyclists before opening a car door or pulling out from a parking space, and yield to cyclists at intersections and as directed by signs and signals.
- Be especially watchful for cyclists when making turns, either left or right.
- Bicyclists should increase their visibility to drivers by wearing fluorescent or brightly colored clothing during the day, and at dawn and dusk. To be noticed when riding at night, use a front light and a red reflector or flashing rear light, and use reflective tape or markings on equipment or clothing.
The combined cost to the nation of bicyclist injury and death is over $4 billion a year. Needless to state, no monetary sum can be placed upon the cost to a family of losing a beloved member in a preventable cycling accident. That said, when taking correct precautions and cycling safely, cycling is a liberating and healthful leisure activity which promotes health and is good for the environment.
Traffic Safety Facts : Bicyclists and Other Cyclists (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)
Pedestrian and Bicyclist Crash Statistics (Pedestrian and Bicyclist Information Center)