Lack of Helmets Killing Cyclists


We see them everyday on our roads; pedal and motorcyclists skillfully weaving and winding their way through heavy lines of traffic, with an ease that motorists, sitting in that heavy traffic, often envy.
But, with such advantage comes a certain degree of vulnerability to serious injuries from accidents, as motorcycle and bicycle riders lack the physical protection offered by an enclosed vehicle.
And so, no one would argue against the need for them to wear protective helmets, to reduce head injuries and fatalities from crashes. Yet, ever so often, riders are seen without this essential piece of protective gear, taking some of the most dangerous risks imaginable and leaving fellow road users flabbergasted at their near death misses.
These reckless practices have the Director of the Road Safety Unit (RSU), Kenute Hare extremely concerned. “Already, 12 pedal cyclists and 26 motorcyclists have died since the start of 2009. Of these, none of the pedal cyclists were wearing helmets,”
Mr. Hare bemoans, noting that pillion passengers are also often unprotected.
He tells JIS News that although pedal cyclist fatalities declined from 59 in 2001 to 37 in 2008, the June 30, 2009 Crash Report of the Road Safety Unit showed several fluctuations amidst the progress made in the seven preceding years. In fact, fatalities among this group increased by 32 per cent from 28 in 2007 to 37 in 2008.
The 12 recorded deaths this year are however, five less than the 17 documented at the end of June last year and the RSU projects a total of 25 pedal cyclist deaths for 2009, 12 or 32.4 per cent less than the 37, who died last year.
For motor cyclist fatalities, the projections are a bit less heartening. While there were minor improvements between 2001 and 2008, overall, fatalities increased from 32 in 2001 to 42 in 2008. The RSU foresees a 19 per cent increase in fatalities from 42 to 50 deaths for this category of road users in 2009. Up to June 30, 174 persons were killed in 149 crashes.
The concern about the mortality of motor and pedal cyclists is shared by countries across the world. A 2009 World Health Organisation (WHO) Road Safety Report shows that an estimated 1.27 million people die annually as a result of road crashes and road crash injuries. Almost half of this number are said to be pedestrians, motorcyclists and pedal cyclists.
According to the WHO Road Safety report, road traffic death rates are increasing in most regions of the world, and unabated, will rise to an estimated 2.4 million a year by 2030, almost twice the current figure. Again, the projections for pedestrians, motorcyclists and pedal cyclists deaths are relatively high.
The resounding solution offered to this most vulnerable group of road users is to protect the head. Despite the life-saving benefits, however, many refuse to do so.
Jermaine Dawes, a motor cyclist of Seaview Gardens, tells JIS News that he acknowledges the need for a helmet but admits that he does not wear one.
“Actually, I know of the purpose that it protects your head and all, but to me it feels like an obstruction. It feels uncomfortable and, added to that, I don’t really ride too hard, so most times I go without it,” he says.
According to Medical Epidemiologist for Chronic Disease and Injuries at the Ministry of Health, Dr. Tamu Davidson-Sadler, motorcyclists, who do not wear helmets, are at a much higher risk of sustaining head injuries and dying from these injuries. She says that while most crash cyclists sustain multiple injuries, one of the main injuries seen in hospitals is head injuries.
Head injury includes damage to the scalp, the skull and the brain, with brain injuries the most serious. Findings from a study conducted in the United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, indicate that bicycle helmets decrease the risk of brain injury by 69 per cent and the risk of severe brain injury by 79 per cent.
“By wearing a helmet, you reduce the risk of having a head injury and so one of the critical things to do is to wear a helmet. We know that if there’s an accident, at least the helmet will provide some protection,” Dr. Davidson-Sadler tells JIS News.
Highlighting the varying degrees and severity of injuries that accident victims can suffer, the Ministry of Health official explains this could range from a concussion, to a fatal head wound.
“If they meet in an accident and they are not wearing a helmet they could sustain head injuries, whether they just fell off the bike and hit their heads or whether they went through a screen. Depending on the type of injury, they could have a skull fracture, they can suffer a concussion and lose consciousness,” she explains.
With a helmet however, the skull decelerates and the subsequent brain movement is reduced, as the helmet manages the impact of the head on the object. The soft material incorporated in the helmet absorbs some of the impact and therefore the head comes to a halt more slowly. This means that the brain does not hit the skull with such great force, as the helmet prevents direct contact between the skull and the impacting object by acting as a mechanical barrier.
“The main emphasis therefore is to wear a helmet. You could suffer anything from a mild concussion to severe brain injury, and wearing a helmet decreases the risk,” states Davidson-Sadler, adding her support to the need to wear this all important piece of protective device.
In the meantime, Mr. Hare is seeking the support of enforcement bodies to impose the law regarding the wearing of helmets. He believes that only a strategic partnership involving the Road Safety Unit, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), the judiciary and other relevant bodies, will force cyclists to protect themselves.
“We are concerned about the constant disrespect and flouting of the law by these cyclists, who continue to put themselves and others in danger. We are calling on the JCF to implement strategic measures to deal with these cyclists, who need to understand that the helmet is there to protect your skull and to protect your brain,” he says.
“This is costing the country dearly as we are losing valuable human resources as a lot of productive persons have been killed. Most of them are males and this is causing a serious deleterious effect on the family structure of our nation,” he adds.
With one child being among the 12 pedal cyclists killed since the start of the year, Mr. Hare says that children, riding bicycles around the home, also need to wear protective devices. “These children riding around the home are falling on the asphalt and hitting their head and suffering severe head injuries,” he notes.
The Bustamante Hospital for Children, he states, has reported a growing number of children, who are being seriously hurt because of a lack of a helmet. “Parents are purchasing bicycles for their children without properly ensuring that their children are safe when riding,” he adds, while appealing for a change in behaviour.

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