Buckle Up a Helmet to Save a Life

I will start this column with its conclusion: Riding a bicycle without wearing a properly fitted helmet is simply stupid.

Anyone who does so is tempting fate, risking a potentially life-changing disaster. And that goes for all users of bike-share programs, like New York’s Citi Bike, who think nothing of pulling a bike from its station and cycling helmetless on streets, with and without bike lanes, among often reckless traffic on foot and wheels.

Even a careful cyclist is likely to crash about once every 4,500 miles and, based on personal observation, many city cyclists are anything but careful. Although reliable details are lacking on bike share accidents in New York or elsewhere, one shattering statistic reported by New York City for cyclists in general stands out: 97 percent of cycling deaths and 87 percent of serious injuries occurred to people who were not wearing helmets.

Head injuries account for three-fourths of the roughly 700 bicycle deaths that occur each year nationwide, and helmets can prevent or reduce the severity of these injuries in two-thirds of cases, according to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Arlington, Va. This protection holds even in crashes with motor vehicles, researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle reported as long ago as 2000, a statistic verified many times since.