Northwestern ER Doc: Wear a Helmet When You Bike

Northwestern Medicine
Health and Wellness October 10, 2013
Chicago is quickly becoming known as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the United States. With its expanding bike lanes and a new bike sharing program, more and more Chicagoans are turning to bike riding as their primary mode of transportation.

Rahul KhareAs an annual member of our city’s new bike sharing program, I love the convenience of checking out a bike at one station and checking it in at my destination. I sometimes bike the 5 miles from my home to my job as an emergency department physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and I often bike to Wrigley Field, where I am one of the Cubs Wrigley Field Urgent Care Physicians. The availability of bikes has made Chicago a more active city, which can have a positive impact on our city’s overall health. However, with more bikes on the road, I’m also seeing more injured cyclists during my shifts in the emergency department.

As an emergency physician at Northwestern Memorial, I want to stress the importance of wearing a helmet while bicycling on any kind of bike. When purchasing a bike, no cyclist should leave the store without buying a helmet. If using the bike share, bring a helmet with you.

In the emergency department, we see many bicyclists who hit their heads wearing helmets, cracking the helmets. Just imagine this could be someone’s skull. Likewise, we have seen a tremendous amount of closed head injuries – a type of traumatic brain injury that is the most common cause of disability and cognitive impairment in young adults – because the riders are not wearing helmets. These injuries are sad and often avoidable. Many times, these bicyclists are not traveling at a high rate of speed but a car door hits them and causes them to fall to the ground. Even just the slight impact of the head to the concrete creates the head injury. The helmet would most definitely help these patients.

Bike sharing is a wonderful idea, and I am proud to be a part of it. However, research has shown, when bike sharing programs begin, the percentage of helmet users decreases dramatically. Some cities, such as Boston, have partnered with private industry to create vending machines that rent helmets out, just like bikes in sharing programs. The cost per rider is just $2, and the helmets are inspected and sanitized after each use.

As doctors we love to see Chicagoans exercising and bike riding is a great way to do that and bike sharing makes the activity accessible to even more Chicagoans. Please remember before getting a bike that wearing a helmet is one of the most important ways to safely ride. For more information, visit the CDC’s bicycle safety website*.
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