Friday, 3 April 2009

I Have Helmet Issues

Am I ever nostalgic for my youth. When I was a kid, there were only two uses for helmets. Hockey and Baseball. Back then, even motorcycle riders weren't required to wear them. Have times ever changed.

Now, you have helmets for almost every type of activity possible. There are even calls for mandatory helmet use while tobogganing.

In each case I will grant that there is enough compelling evidence that helmets can prevent serious injury and even death.

But how many helmets are enough? As a parent I want to keep my kids safe. Head injuries are a serious issue. Both of my sons have cracked their heads a few times each in the short span of their lives so far. A few weeks ago my youngest tripped while walking on the sidewalk. He fell forward and smacked his forehead quite hard. The bruise is just starting to fade now. Should he have been wearing a helmet? That would suggest children should wear helmets at all times, even when sleeping. They can fall out of bed you know.

The recent high profile death on a ski hill has again brought the helmet debate to the forefront. Again, it makes sense from safety standpoint. (Why risk it if you don't have to?)

But its boiling down to dollars and cents for me. We investigated signing our 4-year old for T-Ball this year. One requirement stood out. Every child must have their own helmet. What the hell? We always shared the team helmets whenever I played baseball. What's changed? Lice. Apparently the lice threat is too grave for children to share helmets anymore. I kid you not.

We also investigated taking him to ice skating lessons. This is free ice time dedicated for parents to teach their children, it is not a supervised structured lesson. Regardless, the child must have their own helmet.

Wanna buy them roller blades or a skate board. Need a helmet. Buy them a bicycle, and they need to have a helmet. Even at the tri-cycle stage, a helmet is recommended.

And these helmets aren't interchangeable, they're specific to the activity involved. Given that many of them are fixed size, we would have to buy a new helmet for many of the activities every 1-2 years as my son's heads grew.

How about buying used and reselling? Apparently that's not a good idea. A helmet is designed to only withstand one impact, after which it must be disposed and replaced. You don't know the history (or certification) of a used helmet. So always buy new.

Off the top of my head, if I want my two sons to be physically active, I will be buying them 20 different helmets each before they reach their teenage years.

It may sound cold, but has anyone really done a cost/benefit analysis of prescribing helmet use for almost every activity? (As an aside, why don't kids wear helmets during soccer games? I was involved in and have seen some nasty head-head collisions at youth games. Is it because no kid has died yet?) The resources required to keep kids padded up, especially for the average family, is looking somewhat daunting. Nevermind the waste aspect of it all. Since they can't be resold, and there's no recycling program in place, that's a lot of helmets going to the landfill...

Growing up, I hit my head quite a bit. (Yes, so THAT's what happened. I hear that joke a lot.) It continues to this day; being above average height means that I walk into a lot of things. (Retailers, when hanging signs in the aisles, could you assign that task to the tallest person in the store? And make them use a ladder. I swear, most stores use midgets that hang the signs only 5' up.) Chandeliers, cupboards, stairwells (building code only requires 6'5" clearance. I'm 6'6".) have all added their marks to my skull. I've seen so many stars in my lifetime that they add up to a small galaxy.

And yet I've survived.

I dunno. Maybe all this helmet usage is really a good thing. But unless they find some way to change the costs involved, the safest activities I can afford for my sons is watching TV and playing video games.

Don't walk to the fridge son. Crawl. you might fall and hit your head on the tiles.

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True story. I've only ever had one bike accident where I hit my head. I was cycling down the side of a highway when my front brake lever detached from the handle bar. It swung down and caught in the spokes of the front tire and jammed against the forks. Bike stopped.

I didn't. I was launched quite spectacularly over the handlebars.

I landed on my face right on the side of the highway. I had a concussion and whiplash from the impact. I was going so fast when it happened that the force of the accident pushed my front tire all the way back until it was touching the frame. The bike was ruined.

Since I impacted on the right side of my face, not the top, side or back of the head, a modern bicycle helmet would have done diddly squat to protect me. So I'm even a little doubtful of the true protective nature of a bicycle helmet. Personal experience clouding my judgment and all that.

1 comment:

Ken Breadner said...

Nice post, you cold, cold sonovabitch.
Just kidding. You're so right: times have changed. When I went to school, any kid showing up in a helmet would have had it torn off his head. He then would have been beaten with it.
I get it: safety is important. But short of wrapping the kid in umpteen layers of bubble wrap, he's going to hurt himself, repeatedly. It's called life.