Friday, August 24 2007 @ 02:11 PM EDT
Contributed by: B' Spokes
(Good arguments on both sides)
ABOUT THIS PACKAGE: The Daily Herald published an editorial on Wednesday applauding the Utah County Commission for enacting measures to protect public safety on the Provo Parkway Trail but criticizing its decision to require helmets for anybody on wheels -- such as longboarders and bicyclists. The Commission hosts a public meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 29, at 5:30 p.m. at the County building on east Center Street, Provo, to discuss the question.
Executive editor Randy Wright received a letter from the county Health Department critical of the newspaper. Following is the e-mail exchange with Wright, edited for clarity.
After you read, let your voice be heard. Should helmets be required? Vote at www.heraldextra.com
Dear Editor --
We are sorry to read in your column (August 15, "Helmet Law Goes Too Far") that you care so little for the health and safety of Utah County citizens, and especially children.
A properly fitted helmet reduces the risk of head injury by as much as 85 percent and the risk of brain injury by as much as 88 percent. Bicyclists injuries involving head trauma are 20 times more likely to result in death. In addition to bicycling, skateboarding and longboarding have become very popular sports in Utah. These activities involve speeds reaching between 35-50 mph while traveling downhill (such as in the Canyon). In the Utah County area there have been three fatalities and 31 hospital admissions in the last 18 months as a result of individuals not wearing helmets while longboarding and skateboarding (statistics collected from the UVRMC Emergency Room). In the U.S., boarding injuries account for nearly 50,000 visits to emergency rooms.
There is also the very real cost to individuals and society as a whole in the direct and indirect medical cost, time away from work to care for loved ones, long term care, and pain and suffering of those injured and their families that we should also care about. Helmets are designed to help protect individuals from traumatic brain injuries. When something as simple as a helmet can prevent brain damage that leads to learning and behavioral disorders, paralysis, or death, we feel it important to speak out.
Lance Madigan and Andrea Miller
Utah County Health Department
Thanks for your letter on the subject of safety helmets -- though you misrepresent the Herald's view. We never said that protective equipment isn't a good idea; the question is one of government mandates when it comes to matters of personal choice.
I am very interested in learning more about the risks. Perhaps you will indulge me in a few observations.
A colleague of mine many years ago at a newspaper in San Diego took a very hard line on bicycle helmets -- a line similar to yours. When I challenged some of his conclusions, he had to admit that the problem really isn't very large. When you attempt to analyze the countless millions of people toodling around on bicycles (children included), you need to include at least the following subsets:
-- total hours spent on bicycles or skateboards
-- riders who injure themselves in any fashion during those hours
-- of those injured, how many receive head injuries
-- of the head injuries, how many are traumatic brain injuries
Your figure of 31 hospital "admissions" in 18 months is less than 2 per month -- not exactly an epidemic. If I take "Utah County area" as a pool of 500,000 people, the rate would [be] roughly 6 per 100,000.
By comparison, the risk of death by taking aspirin or riding in a passenger vehicle is about 11 per 100,000 nationally. That's considerably higher than your figure for longboards and skateboards. And it's deaths, not just hospital admissions.
You also claim that hospital admissions are "a result of individuals not wearing helmets while longboarding and skateboarding." I would appreciate it if you could give me the scientific basis for this claim. I do not believe you can show that John Smith would have avoided a hospital admission had he been wearing a helmet.
Clearly, if one is going to bash his head he would prefer to be wearing a helmet. But gross numbers like "50,000 visits to emergency rooms" across an entire nation of 300 million people doesn't produce a high rate. It's 17 per 100,000 "visits" compared to 11 "deaths" in the case of aspirin and automobiles. Throwing out a number like 50,000 nationally is simply not helpful in understanding the problem.
I am willing to learn. Perhaps you would be willing to present your figures as a frequency per 100,000 population or some other basis that lends itself to comparison to other activities? Compared to many other sources of injury, I believe you will find that serious skateboard and bicycle injuries are infrequent.
I believe something like six bicyclists are killed each year in a collision with an automobile in Utah. That's not a good thing, but it's not necessarily a worrisome statistic given the enormous number of auto/bike encounters. By comparison, about 275 people will die as a result of auto accidents in Utah this year. How many auto accident victims survive with traumatic brain injury I can only imagine. I'm sure you have figures on this. Perhaps automobile drivers should wear helmets.