For many, especially young people, this time of yeear means hopping on a bike and going for a ride. Unfortunately for approximately 500,000 people each year, it is a ride that ends in an emergency department.
In fact, more children ages 5 to 14 visit U.S. hospital emergency departments for injuries associated with bicycles than any other sport. The American College of Emergency Physicians is urging everyone who rides a bicycle to wear a protective helmet and ride in a safe manner.
"The use of helmets is the single most effective way to reduce head injuries and fatalities resulting from bicycle crashes," said Dr. Rick Blum, president of ACEP. "If everyone who rides a bike this summer would first put on a helmet, there would be far fewer bike riders in emergency departments with serious injuries."
Universal bicycle-helmet use by children ages 4 to 15 would prevent between 135 and 155 deaths each year, plus 39,000 to 45,000 head injuries and 18,000 to 55,000 scalp and facial injuries, according to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign. However, there is no federal law requiring children to wear bicycle helmets, and as of February this year, only 20 states and the District of Columbia had helmet laws applying to young bicyclists.
Blum and ACEP suggest riders keep the following safety advice in mind as they head out on their biking adventures this year.
Make sure your helmet fits properly. Obey traffic signs and signals. Never ride against the flow of traffic. Use proper hand signals. Never carry another person on the bike. Never ride with headphones.
And, of course, make sure the bicycle is well-maintained, and is the correct size for the rider.
Common Sense Rules
Blum says the best advice of all regarding bicycle safety is to use common sense: "Many of the people, of all ages, that I've treated in the emergency department over the years for injuries sustained from a bike crash told me they were doing something they knew wasn't the right thing to do.
"And once they are treated in the emergency department, they vow never to do it again."
As scooters and skateboards gain popularity, so do the number of injuries related to their use.
Back in 2000, as nonmotorized scooters literally took off, the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated more than 40,000 emergency-room visits were due to scooter injuries. The CPSC estimates more than 10,000 such visits were the result of injures due to motorized scooters in 2003-04.
Two-thirds of those injured using motorized scooters were under 15 years of age.
This article was prepared in cooperation with the American College of Emergency Physicians.