Posted by: drrozkaplan | April 4, 2010

Danger Lurking around Every Corner

It’s taken a week to readjust to my normal life after my trip to China- to get back into routine at work, have a normal sleep cycle, and get the house back to the level of organization I prefer.  And suddenly, I looked around this weekend, and it was spring in full bloom.  This may be the best weather we get all year!  Sunny, dry, warm days and cool nights.  The trees are in full bloom- pink and white and light green everywhere.  And the daffodils are blooming.

Everyone who has been holed up in their houses is out, too.  Kids playing in their yards, dogs being walked, lots of people out walking, running, riding bikes and doing yard work.  It seems, on the surface, so healthy. And I shouldn’t be a cynic, because really, it is healthy.  I just notice all the potential hazards.  Like the kids who run into the street.  Admittedly, these are quiet blocks here, and it is Easter weekend, so there aren’t many cars.  And there are parents watching- but I still worry about a car flying around the corner unexpectedly.  And the dogs who aren’t on leashes.  How can their owners be so sure they won’t get hit?

But my real pet peeve is all the cyclists who are out without their helmets.  This weekend, I saw dozens of them.  People of all ages, on all kinds of bikes, riding on both major thoroughfares and back roads, without head protection.  What are they thinking?  I used to think it was just the teenagers, who think they are indestructible, who refused to wear helmets.  Then, in talking to my patients, I found that a lot of people believe that if they are riding ‘down the shore’, where the cars tend to go slower and there’s a bike lane, or on the Schuykill River Trail, where there are no cars, a helmet is unnecessary.  About half the time, I’m successful at dispelling these myths.  The rest of the time, the riders just don’t want to wear helmets, so they choose to ignore statistics and realities.  But this weekend, I found that even people I would really expect to know better- parents of young kids, older adults, middle aged couples, all riding in well-populated areas on roads shared with cars, were helmetless.

There are also a lot of motorcycle riders out there without helmets.  Pennsylvania, in its great wisdom, decided that civil liberties were so important that they shouldn’t be violated by a law so burdensome as one mandating motorcycle helmets.  Some people who ride motorcycles say they choose not to wear a helmet because if they get in an accident and have a head injury, without a helmet they’ll die, and they’d rather do that than end up brain-damaged, which is what is more likely to happen if they’re wearing a helmet.  Personally, I don’t buy that.  Show me a study.

I certainly don’t buy any argument like that for bicycles.  For all you idiots who get on your bicycles without a helmet, here’s some simple facts.  People fall off their bikes all the time.  They don’t need cars to hit them to fall off and hit their heads.  So being on a trail or ‘down the shore’ is no excuse.  Even the most experienced cyclists fall, and anyone can get hit by a car. More head injuries are associated with bicycling than with ANY OTHER SPORT. Helmet use reduces the risk of head injury by EIGHTY-FIVE percent!  Only 13% of those with serious bicycling injuries were wearing helmets, and only 3% of those dying in bicycle accidents were wearing helmets.  Now do you want to wear a helmet?  Or do you still feel like it will mess up your hair, or like a cute baseball cap will look better? And don’t try to use cost as an excuse.  You can get a good helmet for very little money.  In fact, your local police department might be able to tell you how to get one for free.

I thought about the whole bike accident/helmet thing a lot when I was in China.  The traffic in the cities there is crazy, including the bicycle traffic.  Over 50% of transportation is by bicycle.  I did not see one person with a helmet on.  There is a tremendously high rate of death from car and bicycle accidents there.  Someone told me that Beijing has more deaths from car and bicycle accidents than any other city in the world.  I’m not sure if this is true- I couldn’t find the statistics, but from what I saw in terms of traffic, I wouldn’t doubt it.  I wonder what would happen if people started wearing helmets?

Right now, my husband is out on his bicycle, riding for pleasure.  He has his helmet on.  Likely he is muttering under his breath at other cyclists who don’t.  He used to try to talk to people about it when he saw them without helmets, but all he got was hostility, so he stopped.  If people would only be that defensive about their skulls and brains!

I’m going to go out and enjoy the nice weather now.  I will try not to worry about all the bad things that might happen to people from being outside.  At least now the Vitamin D deficiency we all got over the winter from staying inside all the time will start to improve.



  1. This bicycle helmet thing is interesting– it was sometime last year when I was on the road formerly known as West River Drive– my husband and I were strolling along with our daughter safely strapped in her stroller, and saw you and your husband riding bikes… your husband did not have a helmet on, and I thought it was quite odd that as a doctor, he would forego the helmet… but then my husband reminded me that there was a trauma surgeon who lived across the street from us who routinely rode without his… Me? I’ve fallen off of my bike and cracked my helmet when I was in my teens. My pediatrician kept the helmet to use as an example!

    • I think you must be mistaken- there is NO WAY you saw my husband riding without a helmet- he has never, ever done that, and I can vouch for it.

      • Glad to know it was a case of mistaken identity! I must say it really did surprise me at the time, but glad that you both always wear helmets… too bad not everyone is so smart; I was very young when someone I knew lost a daughter to a bike accident when she was riding without a helmet– I think that made a lasting impression on me. So sorry for the confusion– and I didn’t mean for it to sound like an accusation if that’s how it came across!

  2. Actually, I think my favorite example of idiotic bike riders are the parents who have a child strapped in a child seat on the back of the bike– and the child is wearing a helmet, but the parent isn’t. That’s great, so if there’s an accident your child will survive to know the pain of growing up without a parent.

    In Lower Merion, if a child under 12 is caught riding without a helmet, their parents can be fined. Too bad nobody ever seems to enforce that law.

  3. What drives me nuts are the kids (mostly) who wear the helmet but way back on their heads so that the frontal lobe has no protection,which is the point of the helmet in the first place. I stopped a family on my street and was explaining that I work in a large hospital with a trauma center. I told the parents that their children were not wearing the helmet correctly. They ignored me and to this day – IDIOTS!

  4. China also blocks all blogs. I have a high school friend who has lived in Beijing for the past six years. She teaches English at the University. Her son in Tulsa, Oklahoma (somebody has to live there) has a blog so I cut/paste his posts into a Word document and send it to her. Interestingly I have not experienced any censoring of her emails. BTW – my damn cough is back – see you Monday!!! :)


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