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Be Safe: Wear your cycle helmet

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by Valerie Beach-Horne 21.JUL.06

Motorcyclists are extremely vulnerable and universally represent 21 per cent of all road fatalities. Cyclists are more vulnerable than motor vehicle occupants because they do not benefit from crash protection features (such as airbags and seat belts). If they are hit, they experience the full force of the impact.

Moreover, some crash protection features designed to protect vehicle occupants, such as bull bars, actually put cyclists and pedestrians at greater risk.{{more}}

However, cyclists can take precautions to protect themselves on the road and increase their chances of survival in a crash, and one of the simplest steps is to wear a cycle helmet. If a cyclist is knocked off his bike, there is a good chance his head will hit the road.

Research and data reviews show that half of cycling accident victims admitted to hospital A&E Departments are for head and face injuries, and the majority of cyclist deaths and injuries are a result of head injury.

While helmets cannot eliminate the risk of head injury entirely, they dramatically reduce the risk of skull fracture when a cyclist’s head hits an object or the road. It also reduces the chance of concussion and protects the head from cuts and scrapes.

Wearing helmets are effective for cyclists of all ages, but it is especially important for children riding bicycles. Children often have less control over their movements on a bike and are more likely to make errors of judgment. Child cyclists are also smaller and therefore harder for drivers to spot. Also there doesn’t need to be a motor vehicle involved for a cyclist crash to be fatal.

Tips for cyclists – What to look for when choosing a helmet

1. Make sure your helmet is standard-approved with a recognized safety certification.

2. Check that it is the right size – a helmet should fit snugly and securely on the head with a minimum use of pads. Do not buy a helmet that a child will “grow” into.

3. Buy a brightly coloured helmet that can be easily seen by other road users.

4. Remember that the polystyrene layer inside the helmet, which compresses to absorb the force of an impact, can only be compressed once, so helmets should be replaced after any knock or crash.

How to wear a helmet correctly:

1. Loosen all the straps.

2. Place the helmet squarely on your head, sitting just above the eyebrows and NOT tilted back or tipped forwards.

3. The chin strap should be securely fastened and not twisted.

4. Adjust the strap so that it tightens firmly under the chin, with only enough room for two fingers to be inserted between chin and strap.

5. Adjust the back straps. The back and chin straps should meet just below your ear lobe. Be sure the chin strap stays in as straight a line as possible.

6. To test the helmet is correctly fitted, make sure you CAN’T tilt the helmet backwards far enough to uncover your forehead, tilt it forward enough to cover your eyes or ears, or tilt it sideways enough to uncover the sides of your head.

Seatbelts and Your Safety

Since the introduction of seatbelts in the 1980’s and 1990’s in most developed countries; millions of lives have been saved as many fatalities have been prevented. In light of that success, almost all new cars being produced today are fitted with safety features including seatbelts. If your vehicle does not have seatbelts you should contact the manufactures or the local agents to see what can be done, especially now that a seatbelt law is in effect.

However for seatbelts to do what they are designed for they must be used properly. Here are some tips:

• Drivers and front seat passengers should sit as far back as is reasonably possible from the steering wheel or dashboard to reduce the possibility of serious head or chest injuries in the event of a crash or collision.

• Lap-and-diagonal belts provide more protection and should be used before lap-only belts. Never put the same seat belt around yourself and another passenger (adult or child).

• Adjust the seat belt properly. Place the lap belt as low as possible over the hips – not over the abdomen. Ensure the shoulder belt lies on the chest and over the shoulder. Do not leave any slack in the belt.

• Some cars are now fitted with height adjusters for the diagonal strap. The diagonal strap should be adjusted to lie centrally over the shoulder and away from the neck. The strap should be adjusted to lie in contact with your shoulder and slopes up and back to the anchorage point.

• Do not interfere with the correct function of the seat belt by fitting any comfort devices that are not recommended by your vehicle manufacturer.

• Although it is safer for children less than 3 years to travel in the back seat of any vehicle, if they must for any reason be carried in the front seat they must be in an appropriate child restraint/seat. The adult belt may not be used.

• Do not attempt to improve seat belt comfort with padding or cushions. It is also not advisable to sit on any mats or cushions other than those originally fitted by the vehicle manufacturer clothing.

• The centre rear seats of many cars are fitted with a lap-only seat belt that must be adjusted manually. It is important that you adjust such belts for a snug fit over your hips, without any slack.

• Valerie Beach-Horne is a Senior Promotion Special, Coventry Teaching PCT, NHS Trust, England.

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