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Please take the time to read this article to get a better idea about helmet safety.

A Second Chance
By Jeff Sambur

Late lunch? Bonus miles in Glacier National Park? Early Happy Hour?
These were some of my random thoughts as I huffed up the final pull toward the summit of Marias Pass. I was en route from West Glacier, Mont., to East Glacier on what was supposed to be a mellow seven-to-10-day circumnavigation of the Glacier/Waterton National Park complex. I was a mere half hour from completing these decisions when I was thrust into a cave.
Total darkness … no sound … no brakes screeching … no thud of my body smashing the sedan’s windshield … no noise as I went rolling and tumbling across 35 feet of asphalt and gravel. When I awoke in a ditch, a Good Samaritan was applying spinal traction to my neck. The peripheral vision from my left eye saw the drip, drip, drip of blood oozing from my nose. My right eye was swollen shut.
“What happened?” I asked weakly.
“You got rear-ended by a car. Don’t move!” she answered. She then called out, “He’s coming around. I’ll need some help here.”
I estimated I had checked out of planet Earth for two to four minutes. First responders in civilian clothes assisted me as they poked and plodded my body and took primary and secondary surveys of my injuries.
“Can you move your feet? Can you wiggle them? Squeeze my hands. Are you having trouble breathing?”
The questions came fast and furious: I passed the tests with flying colors. My spinal column was not severed. I was alert enough to pick up a distinct British accent from the crowd gathering above me. I got his attention.
“Was it you who hit me?”
“Yes. I was sightseeing and looking at the mountains and drifted into you.”
I might have said a few choice words to him, but I don’t recall. I don’t remember much, although I remember he never said he was sorry.
An ambulance from Browning arrived and I was placed on an unforgiving backboard and cervical collar. We raced back to the ER with the emergency lights on and sirens blaring. It was a bumpy, rough ride as we careened down the pass and through a construction zone. A paramedic attempted two sticks to get an IV into me and failed both times.
“Please don’t stick me again. I hurt enough already. They can do that in the ER under better conditions. I promise I won’t die before then.”
“OK. We can hold off on it.”
“Thanks.”
At the ER, a doctor made her orders known. “He’ll need a CAT-Scan of his head. Get a set of X-rays for his neck, chest and spine. Set him up with an IV ASAP. We’ll need to monitor his vital signs.”
The nurses and technicians efficiently carried out her orders. I was then in the hurry-up-and-wait mode of emergency medicine. A nursing student gently dabbed the grit, grime and dried blood from my many facial wounds and multiple areas of road rash. I even had road rash on the tops of my feet. Apparently, the force of the impact literally knocked me out of my shoes.
The compassionate ER doctor came to my side to survey the carnage to my face. She held my hand as she said, “Those lacerations and avulsions will need the care of a plastic surgeon. I can stitch them for you, but they can do a better job. Would you like me to arrange a helicopter transport to Kalispell Regional Medical Center? We can have a plastic surgeon waiting for you.”
“Please do. I am not a handsome man to begin with and I can use all the help I can get.” With that sad news, I knew my Hollywood contract as George Clooney’s double would surely be terminated. Shucks!
“We’ll arrange it. The CAT-Scan of your head and brain came out with negative findings. That is a good thing. We are waiting now for the radiologist to evaluate your neck, chest and spine X-rays.”
“Thanks for all the help. Can I get off of this backboard? It is really beginning to hurt me. I’m OK. I can move all of my parts.”
“Please wait a few minutes until we get the radiologist report. This is all precautionary.”
“OK. I’ll try.” The pressure point where my head contacted the backboard was starting to throb.
A few minutes later, (which seemed much longer) the nice ER doctor came back. Once again she held my hand.
“I have bad news. The radiologist found 11 fractures in your first 11 vertebrae. You have a broken sternum, too. There will be a neurosurgeon waiting for you in Kalispell, also.”
“What? How can that be? I can move all of my parts. Are you sure those were my X-rays?”
“Yes, those were your X-rays. You will get the best of care in Kalispell. I have a special place in my heart for bicycle riders. My son was killed by a driver 20 years ago when he was riding a bike. We will take care of you.”
No wonder she was holding my hand.
The helicopter flight crew came and checked me out. “We will hold off on the morphine drip until we get him to Kalispell. Jeff, we are going to give you a scenic ride over Glacier National Park. I am sorry to say you won’t get a chance to enjoy the views.”
With little fanfare, I was loaded and airborne. They had placed painkillers in my IV, so I became groggy, blurry and disconnected. I remember peeking at the snowcapped mountains briefly. Alas, I would not get to enjoy my $11,000 taxi ride to Kalispell. This was all business.
Upon arrival to my second ER of the day, a plastic surgeon went to work on my tenderized face.
“I will try to stitch you to minimize the scarring. However, there will be some scarring no matter what.” All in all, 20 stitches were applied to my eyebrows and right cheek. When she was done she asked. “Would you like to see my work in a mirror?”
“Sure!” I steadied myself for the view. OMG! I was staring at a mini-version of Frankenstein. My mug was enough to make a child cry. Dating would truly be more challenging in my future.
It was time to get past the cosmetics. A large neurosurgeon with sandy-colored hair and a stoic bedside manner approached me. “We won’t be operating on you. With all of your breaks, we would not even know where to start. Your spinal column is intact and not being impinged upon. We will place you in ICU and monitor your X-rays. We will hope there are no radical changes or shifts in your column. Now it is time for you to go on a morphine drip …”
“One question please. What is my long term prognosis?”
“We don’t know. We don’t see many patients like you.”
“Why is that?”
“Because they are usually dead.”
I whispered a lame, “Oh!”
The next few days on the morphine drip were a haze of dreaming and snippets of reality thrown in. Concerned friends and family members phoned me. I have no recollection of the conversations. I do recall the nursing staff getting me up and out of bed. I even walked up a flight of steps under their watchful eyes.
Best of all, my older brother Mike arrived from New York City to take care of his “baby” brother. I wept shamelessly as he entered the room. He went on to prove once again why he is the best brother in the world.
Four days after the impact, I was discharged from the hospital. My post-discharge orders were written out and terse. “Do Not Remove the Brace!” It looked like sponge baths and partial shampoos would be my method of hygiene for awhile. Gross.
Mike and I began a 1,000-mile journey south to my old hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado. He drove and I navigated. The plan was for me to get a second opinion from neurosurgeon number two and to convalesce in familiar surroundings.
I told Mike a few times: “I always wanted to take a road trip with you, but this is not what I had in mind.”
Eight days after the accident, Mike and I listened to neurosurgeon number two, a no-nonsense, no-sugar-coating doctor who calls it like he sees it. He does not believe in small-talk. I suppose after 35 years in the game, he has that right.
“Your vertebrae fractures are mild. You do have a definite broken sternum. I believe you will heal OK. We will take another set of X-rays in a few weeks to see if there are any changes. I doubt there will be. I’ll see you again in three weeks.”
In my former life, I worked for 28 years as a firefighter/EMT for the city of Fort Collins. In emergency services, the term “mechanism of injury” is bandied about to predict the outcome of an accident.
A small, 138-pound man being struck from behind by a sedan traveling at more than 50 mph is an obvious assault upon the body. Humans are not wired to survive such an ordeal. During my career, I went on calls for three similar bicycle accidents. For those unfortunate victims, there was no tomorrow. The one and only thing that separated me from them was my use of a bicycle helmet.
Now in Fort Collins, I meet former lovers, friends and acquaintances on the street. I smile grandly as I maneuver in to hug them. If the hug lingers long enough, I usually score a life affirming squeeze at the end. I make sure to pay back that squeeze in kind.
Second chances in life are precious. I do not wish to squander this one.

109 comments

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Gkam84 [9086 posts] 3 years ago
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A touching story, but no insight to that line you started out with.

"get a better idea about helmet safety"

"The radiologist found 11 fractures in your first 11 vertebrae. You have a broken sternum, too."

How does a helmet protect your vertebrae? or the injuries to your face?

As I keep saying, a helmet is just a barrier to road rash at high speed. It does not help in big impacts, nor does it support your neck, which in high speed impacts is the most vulnerable place.

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abudhabiChris [692 posts] 3 years ago
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Yawn  37

Tells me nothing about helmet safety and a lot about what people believe.

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Saved by a helm... [26 posts] 3 years ago
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you really need to have seen 3 cyclists get killed like I have to believe helmets work. without one my head would have been mush.

I guess you are the type of person who doesn't wear seat belts in a car too.

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AWPeleton [3347 posts] 3 years ago
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oh dear here we go again, nothing against your account, i wear a helmet all the time, but it will end up in another long long long arguement between those that do and those that dont.

Sorry, but thats the forum for you.  3

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Saved by a helm... [26 posts] 3 years ago
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no worries.
those are the same people who think cigarettes don't cause cancer, that wearing a seat belt is stupid and the world is flat.

I am an ex-firefighter. I have a thick skin to handle all the thick heads I dealt with.

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Saved by a helm... [26 posts] 3 years ago
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as we say in America.

DUH!

If I were not wearing a helmet, I would have been killed. a freaking sedan hit me in the head and I lived through it.
Yes, I broke vertebrae and yes I had a broken sternum, but I healed. A brain does not heal!

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Gkam84 [9086 posts] 3 years ago
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I smoke a little - I know the benefits to stopping

I wear a seatbelt not because its illegal not to, but because of the proven evidence it saves lives.

I don't wear a helmet because there is NO scientific proof that it does anything for you over a certain speed, normally quoted at around 12-15mph. I cycle fast than that, let alone being hit by something going even faster.

If it was a full face helmet, something akin to a motorcycle helmet, then I'd understand as they are proven lifesavers. Cycling helmets are not.

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Saved by a helm... [26 posts] 3 years ago
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Keep thinking that.

when you are eventually hit and drooling over yourself, you might think different.

brains don't heal and they are so easy to injure.

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Gkam84 [9086 posts] 3 years ago
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Think this would be an interesting article for you. I'll say no more.

http://www.camdencyclists.org.uk/info/tforum/hillman1991

Quote:

By wearing helmets, cyclists are at best only marginally reducing their chances of being fatally or seriously injured in a collision with a motor vehicle which is the predominant cause of these injuries. Even the most expensive ones provide little protection in these circumstances. Moreover, the argument in favour of helmets would have validity if there were proof that behaviour does not change in response to perceived risk.

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Saved by a helm... [26 posts] 3 years ago
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To be honest, I really don't care if someone makes the choice and gets killed because of lack of helmet use. I think there are too many people on the planet already.

I think to advise potential cyclists that they are better off not wearing one is pretty irresponsible and lame.

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Some Fella [890 posts] 3 years ago
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Whilst i was growing up in the 70s and 80s we all rode bikes and did some crazy shit on them. Every day.
None of us wore helmets.
Thinking back the streets round my way were littered with dead kids and those that did make it though are now all dribbling vegetables. If only we had had helmets back then.
 38

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Some Fella [890 posts] 3 years ago
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Look at these reckless fools!
Hundreds of thousands of them.
All of them just asking to be killed or 'eventually hit'.
Im amazed there is anyone still left alive in Denmark!

http://youtu.be/FXw_t172BKY

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Gkam84 [9086 posts] 3 years ago
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I am not advising ANYONE not to wear a helmet, everyone has their own choice, but trying to force it on them is also wrong. I'll choose what i'm happy with, you stick to how you are happy.

But to come on here proclaiming the benefits of wearing a helmet. Not going to get much cut

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Saved by a helm... [26 posts] 3 years ago
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YIPPEEE!!!

Someone in GB agrees with me.
I did the same shit in the Bronx, NYC.

We got away with it then, but there are a lot more idiot drivers out there now.

thanks

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Saved by a helm... [26 posts] 3 years ago
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Like I said, there are too many people on the planet anyway.
if you survive the accident and end up drooling on yourself, please don't expect society to feel for you or the barristers to get you a few pounds from the idiot driver who struck you.

you are 100% right. I am all about freedom of choice and my article was telling it like it is. I survived because of a helmet. case closed.

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Saved by a helm... [26 posts] 3 years ago
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I have a fan in Denmark too.
Thanks

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trikeman [309 posts] 3 years ago
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I also wear a helmet, one because I choose to and another I just 'feel' a little safer - overhanging branches on the lanes have given my trusted Giro some battle scars, but I'm still here.
However, I have just come back from one of my many jaunts to Amsterdam, the city of litterally thousands of bikes, very upright bikes at that, and one thing that really stands out there is that I have never seen anyone wearing a helmet (only a child in a nailed together box on the front of a bike).
Two of the lads I work with in Amsterdam ride in every day and when I asked them why they don't wear helmets they both looked at me as if I was on the ganja that 'drifts' around the streets - they said 'that's for racers like in the tours,,,, isn't it'?. I will say that the apparent chaos of the Amsterdam streets looks wild, but there are some pretty strong rules as far as traffic merging with bikes and it seems to work - though I'm not too sure how many deaths from cycling there are there.
I would certainly not ride round Bristol without a helmet and it appears the majority there do wear them, though I still think it should be a matter of your own choice.

Trikeman.  39

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giff77 [1254 posts] 3 years ago
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I'm really glad that you survived this awfull episode of your life and are well on the road to recovery. Helmet wearing or not; vunerable road users will never be safe until motorists are educated on how to drive in a manner which keeps those not surrounded by several tons of metal.

The nations that appear to be strongest on helmet compulsion the USA, Canada, UK, Australia, NZ and SA are also some of the most car-centric nations in the world. These same naations all appear to have the mentality of I have a car therefore I'm better than you and have nothing in place to protect vunerable road users. Compare that with some of the European countries where bicycles are a viable means of transport and legislation is in place to protect the cyclist and pedestrian. This extends to the non-urban roads where there is no infrastructure. Cycle in the mountains in Spain and a vehicle behind will wait till safe to pass and give you plenty of room. Here in Scotland I've had to pull in because of some idiot behind me gunning his engine impatient to overtake.

Helmets are a red herring, they fool motorists into thinking that you are 'protected' and do not change motorist behavior towards cyclists one iota.

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Saved by a helm... [26 posts] 3 years ago
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I agree with you about choice. Most of the US has no mandatory bicycle helmet laws. Hell, people are motorcycles aren't required to wear one in most states.
The point of my article besides being interesting is to announce to the world that a proper fitting helmet can save a life.
That is all.
Helmets do make a difference between life and death, no brain injury vs. brain injury.

thanks

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Saved by a helm... [26 posts] 3 years ago
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Thanks for your comment about my survival.

I was struck twice while wearing a day glow neon yellow shirt, the kind that highway workers wear to get driver's attentions. It did not make a difference. Drivers don't notice whether you are wearing a helmet or not.
They hit cyclists because they are careless, distracted or just bad drivers. it has become open season on cyclists because too many people are trying to share the roads.

I don't ride as much as I used to. I once road 10,000 K from San Diego, California to Maine. I even wrote a book about it.

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=sr_nr_seeall_1?rh=k%3Ajeff+sambur%2Ci%3Astripbooks&keywords=jeff+sambur&ie=UTF8&qid=1322747084

Be safe out there.
Jeff

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felixcat [478 posts] 3 years ago
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The car centric nations giff mentions are also the ones where the cycist casualty rate is of the order of twice the British rate, even though most of them have helmet compulsion laws and a culture of helmet wearing. It is clear that helmets have not made these countries as safe as GB, still less NL or DK.
The North European countries which have a lot more cycling than GB, and about half our casualty rate, are not helmet wearers.
Something makes a difference to cycling casualty rates, and we can argue about what that is, but helmet wearing correlates with high casualty rates.
When the introduction of mandatory helmets has led to a big jump in wearing rates in a country or state the effect on casualty rates has not been detectable, except that it they may have increased in some states.

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Gkam84 [9086 posts] 3 years ago
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Start with a story that will cause mixed opinions and open up discussions, then try to spark more debate by carrying on and making points about seatbelts.....

Then as the comments stop coming in, reveal that you have written a book all about your cycling travels and not just 1 but 5.

I like it, very clever and I am not trying to take anything away from the helmet debate either. I think its a very valid debate that needs scientists behind it.

You could have just sent one of the reviewers for the site a copy of your book and good a nice review out of it  3

But I doubt you need reviews having won a 2012 IPPY (Independent Publishers) Gold Medal Award  26

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Saved by a helm... [26 posts] 3 years ago
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Can I still send a copy to somewhere for a review?
It is a good/great book about bicycle riding across the US the long way. It is hard to get the word out though.

I never realized that my innocent article on getting almost killed on a bike would cause so much of a stir. I guess the people in GB are more opinionated than I thought!

Be safe and no matter what the so called experts know, a helmet saved my life twice. That is a fact.

Best wishes,
Jeff

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felixcat [478 posts] 3 years ago
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Saved by a helmet twice wrote:

Be safe and no matter what the so called experts know, a helmet saved my life twice. That is a fact.

Jeff

No, it is an opinion.

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Gkam84 [9086 posts] 3 years ago
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I'm sure that one of the reviewers would be more than happy to read and review your book. It does look interesting.

Drop the owners a line at info [at] road.cc and i'm sure they will help you out  3

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Paul J [894 posts] 3 years ago
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Given you were a fire-fighter/EMT, you presumably also have seen lots of vehicle occupants with head injuries after crashes. Do you also recommend that people wear crash helmets when they drive their cars? If you do not, why not?

I believe that evidence shows cigarettes significantly increase the risk of a number of health problems including cancer, that the global climate is warming and is caused by man-made emissions (do you?), the earth is a spheroid, and that cyclist and pedestrian safety, along with public health overall is best served by engineering the roads - the helmet debate is at best a distraction from that.

Indeed, I know the evidence shows that cultures which invest their cyclist-safety faith in helmets have *worse* cyclist safety records than those which instead engineer the environment around the cyclist.

It's a *FACT* that the Netherlands has extremely low rates of helmet usage (near-0, other than amongst the youngest of children) compared to high-use countries like AU, UK and USA, while the Netherlands has much *better* safety.

The anglo-saxon helmet fetish has _provably_ *failed* to deliver safer cycling.

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Saved by a helm... [26 posts] 3 years ago
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Most of the head injured people I saw in vehicle accidents were not wearing seat belts. The same genre of people who smoke and don't wear bicycle helmets.
As a society we all pay for others mistakes. whether the friends or loved ones have to become caregivers, or when our health insurance rates go up to cover the under-insured. (That is in the US).
I have no idea why Holland has less injuries. Don't they totally separate the drivers from the cyclists?
As far as road engineering goes, I was on a 2 meter wide shoulder when I was struck in Montana. I was less than a half meter from the edge. The sedan and it's careless driver went off the road to smear me on his windshield. No engineering can make up for careless idiots.
After over 250,000 miles of lifelong riding, I am still wondering when road cycling has become a full-body contact sport.

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felixcat [478 posts] 3 years ago
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Saved by a helmet twice wrote:

Most of the head injured people I saw in vehicle accidents were not wearing seat belts.

Really? I don't believe it. What about the pedestrians?

"I have no idea why Holland has less injuries. Don't they totally separate the drivers from the cyclists?"

It is not just NL. We in GB have a lower rate of cycle casualties than USA, Canada, Oz, SA. but a higher rate than NL DK. It really is the case that the helmet law and helmet wearing countries have a higher rate of cyclist casualties than the low rate of helmet wearing countries. Helmet wearing just does not work as well as whatever it is these N.European countries are doing. Helmet wearing is plainly a lot less effective than other ways of reducing cycle casualties. Why is there so much weight put upon this ineffective precaution? I think it is a distraction and a substitute for the effective actions. The problem is probably that the effective measures might impact upon motorists.
Nearly every motorist in GB wears a belt, but their casualty rates per hour are not greatly different to cyclists'. Most road head injuries are suffered by people in cars, but for some reason it is thought absurd that they should wear helmets.

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Saved by a helm... [26 posts] 3 years ago
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we are beating this horse to death.
I choose to wear a helmet and I know it saved my life twice. If you saw the smashed helmet, you might become a believer too.
In the U.S drivers actually veer toward riders every now and then. Go figure!

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hippy69 [10 posts] 3 years ago
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The wearing of helmets always seems to provoke the same old arguments.

I work as a nurse in a major trauma centre in London, and have been riding road bikes for most of my life. I never wore a helmet for years including 5 years as a cycle courier. I thought they looked s**t and doubted their ability to protect me.

So what made me change my mind? Frankly, seeing people die from preventable head injuries. People like me, out for a ride with friends or training alone. Pushing it too hard or just having the shit luck to be come across some idiot who isn't paying attention. I have also seen numerous men and women airlifted into my ER with serious isolated head injuries, whose lives are changed for ever due to their brain injury, maybe not 'dribbling' but functionally their lives have changed forever, and don't forget that of their families! Importantly, I've also seen many people walk out of hospital after having serious crashes with extensive damage to the helmets they have been wearing. The forces involved in crushing a cycle helmet are huge. NO helmet and those forces are applied directly to your skull.

I can also cite my own experiences of stacking the bike in a big way. My own helmet prevented a serious brain injury when I hit a parked truck (parked in a no parking zone) at full sprint. Mark Cavendish I am not, but fast enough, I hit the truck head first at 45-50km an hour. I broke my jaw and had multiple cuts and bruises, but nothing that was going to kill me, The helmet was screwed, there was a 2" dent in the frontal area, and extensive damage/spiderwebbing to the polystyrene over a much wider area. If I had not been wearing the helmet, who knows what I might be like now, the general view of neurosurgeons I work with is I'd probably be f***ed!

I'm not going to preach, or demand that laws should be changed, but personally, my lid goes on my head any time my bike hits the road.

Those that don't want to wear helmets carry on pulling out your evidence that they don't save lives, it's your choice.

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