First responders; cyclists risking brain injury, death, for want - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

First responders; cyclists risking brain injury, death, for want of a $40 helmet

CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Ever-rushing Ringgold Road is hardly rider friendly--even though it's home to bike paths, and the popular East Ridge Bicycles shop.

"Every once in awhile, we'll see somebody take a spill," co-owner Wayne Mansfield says.

"It's more often the kids, and a lot of the time the kids aren't wearing helmets."

That makes them more likely to wind up in the emergency room at Children's Hospital-Erlanger; much the way a 12-year-old boy has, after his bicycle collided with a semi on Cleveland Highway at Broadacre Road near Dalton, in Whitfield County.

The Georgia State Patrol reports that the boy cut in front of the truck. The driver moved to the left lane, but the bicycle struck the cab on the right side. The boy fell from his bike and struck his head on the pavement. He wasn't wearing a helmet.

"The skull is smaller for children, so it takes less force to cause trauma," Medical Director Dr. Darwin Koller says.

Nurse Marisa Moyers, Children's Hospital's Trauma Coordinator, puts it even more bluntly.

"Kids heads are bigger when they're smaller," she says."And they're top heavy. When they hit, it's like a watermelon!"

The National HIghway Traffic Safety Administration reports that bicycle wrecks killed 630 people in 2009; 74 of them children no older than 14. More than 51,000 suffered injuries. In 91 percent of the cases, the rider wasn't wearing a helmet.

"Greater than 50 percent of the wrecks happen on driveways and sidewalks," Moyers says."Your driveway, your sidewalk. It's still concrete."

Laws and cold hard pavement aside, a Gallup Poll shows half of children and adults surveyed in 2008, were likely to wear helmets "sometimes", but only 36 percent reported wearing them every time they ride.

This, despite 13 percent of the survey pool admitting that they ride in 'unsafe' areas.

"The impact is what we're trying to protect against," Mansfield says. "Styrofoam does a tremendous job of absorbing the impact of a hit, and protecting your brain."

Mansfield stocks moto-cross, all-terrain and racing bikes at prices ranging from $200 to more than $2,000.

But an equally sleek, shield for your head?

"Would have been about $100, 15 years ago" he says. "Right now, you're looking at about $35."

Children's Hospital's 'Safe & Sound 'program even offers needy children helmets for free.

"They are much more likely to wear it if a parent is wearing a helmet or is encouraging them to wear a helmet," program coordinator Cathy Jackson says.

Last year, 'Safe & Sound' gave out 600 helmets.

Helmets aren't up for debate at Dr. Koller's house. He's a father of three; ages 2, 9 and 12.

"No resistance," he says."They might try little sneaking here and there. But never beyond the driveway."

Experience is too cruel a teacher.

"We're not talking about something they get over tomorrow and go lead their lives," Moyers says. "Children with concussive injuries and traumatic brain injuries can sometimes have a lifetime of learning disabilities. Some of these kids can never function again."

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