For most MIT students, a brain is their most prized asset. So for the subset of those students who bike to class or work, we have one simple message: Wear your damn helmet.
Despite enthusaistic campaigns from federal transportation and safety agencies, only about 20 to 25 percent of all bicyclists wear helmets, according to a 2008 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Anecdotally, it’s more common to see bicyclists on this campus without helmets than with.
And yet 70 percent of all fatal bicycle crashes involve head injuries — and helmets are 85–88 percent effecitve in mitigating head and brain injuries. You can do the math: How many of the 600–700 people who die every year in bike crashes would survive if they took the time to put on a helmet?
However, helmet use is not uncontroversial. Some claim that mandatory helmet laws discourage overall bicycle use, contributing to more unhealthy lifestyles. Still others say that helmet use lulls riders into a false sense of safety, distracting cyclists from other important aspects of road safety. Undeniably, the NHTSA’s statistics may not paint an entirely complete picture.
But the question that MIT students face is not one of policy. On an individual level, riders are substantially safer when they wear helmet, assuming they don’t see a helmet as an excuse to otherwise ride recklessley.
Since riding bicycles, like nearly everything else, carries risk, smart cyclicsts take steps to mitigate that risk. Especially in unpredicable environments like MIT — full of vehicles (both on and off clearly marked roadways), pedetrians, other bikers, and the aberrant frisbee — a helmet is critical even during the shortest of rides.
MIT students’ rationalizations for not wearing a helmet reveal flawed risk-benefit calculations. “It makes me look like a dork,” or “They’re uncomfortable,” are not good reasons to risk critical brain function.
So while the overall risk of riding a bicycle is not extraordinarily high, the cost of wearing a helmet is so extraordinarily low that everybody should do it. In any case, it’s just a no-brainer to wear a helmet — our skulls were not designed with high-velocity impacts in mind.
And if self-preservation is not enough of a motivator, take a more selfless stance. Insured or not, the cost of treatment and emergency transport for head injuries — entirely preventable by wearing a helmet — are a burden on the rest of soceity. Don’t make the rest of the world pay because you think you look silly wearing a helmet.
Be nice to your brain. Turn over a new leaf this semester and start wearing a helmet.