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Thursday, August 14, 2008

On the road safety comes 1st, convenience 2nd

I have never in my life ever worn a bicycle helmet. When I was a kid it wasn't even something to be considered.

I remember falling off my bike several times while goofing around when I was a kid. I even fell off once as an adult because a child suddenly stopped in front of me, and I catapulted headfirst onto the pavement.

This last time I managed to get up without even a scratch. I suppose you could consider me lucky.

I will not allow my kids to even touch a bike without a bicycle helmet, and yet I refuse to wear one myself. "I've never fallen, why would I fall now?"

Kids, however, fall off bikes all the time. So it only makes sense that they wear protection. When I was training my kids, I wouldn't even consider not putting a helmet on their little heads.

Currently, there are few laws requiring bike helmets. And while I don't think its necessary for adults to wear them, I definitely think it essential that kids do.

I watched my 5-year-old daughter flip off her bike and land what looked to me right on her face. I leaped off my bike expecting the worse. But, it seemed that little the helmet was angled just so that it prevented my baby's face from hitting the pavement.

All she had was a few scrapes on her hands. She cried for a few minutes and was back on her bike.

My co-worker described to me a 23-year-old male who came to the ER recently because he was riding his bike down a winding road and he suddenly found himself lying in the middle of the road in a pool of blood. He had no clue what had happened.

He hopped back on his bike and rode back home -- his face hurting. When she saw him, his wife rushed him to the ER. He had broken several face bones, and broke all his teeth. His jaw bone was busted, and he had to have his teeth clenched shut for six weeks.

Perhaps, just perhaps, this could have all been avoided had he simply worn that inconvenient bicycle helmet. Perhaps, just perhaps, it might be beneficial advice to listen to the experts when they say, "never get on a bike without your helmet on."

In this case, it turned out this bicyclist was hit by a car. Since the patient had no recollection of the incident, a little investigation was needed. It was a hit and run.

Does this mean I think a law should be made that adults wear seat belts? Absolutely not. I don't want to be so "inconvenienced" to wear one of them.

Still, it does make me think that the time might be now to start wearing one. Not because I ever plan on falling off my bike and smashing my face.

But that's just it though: we don't plan on an accident happening. That's all the more reason these types of safety recommendations.

Yet, still, I find my kids saying, "Why aren't you wearing a helmet, dad?"

"Because I'm an adult," I say.

Perhaps I'm a pinhead for not wearing one. Yes, I am. I should wear one and set a good example. Yet I don't. I don't want to. It's inconvenient to wear a helmet.

So, is it inconvenient to wear a seat belt too? Perhaps it is for some people, but the truth to the matter is that studies show that seat belts save lives. I've never had a patient come into the hospital who was in a car accident say, "Man, I wish I wasn't wearing my seat belt."

No. It's usually the opposite, "I wish I WAS wearing my seat belt." Yep, then you wouldn't have been tossed out the window and shattered every bone in your right leg, caused severe trauma to your abdomen, and perhaps caused internal bleeding in your head.

When I was a kid we never wore seat belts. I remember my mom putting a playpen in the back of a station wagon back in 1975 when we traveled to California for a summer vacation.

I remember sitting in the front seat while my little brother rode on dad's lap. I remember taking a nap on the floor of the car. I remember standing up -- in the front seat -- while mom was driving.

In the 1980s my grandma lived in Florida, and my dad used to borrow a van with a TV in it, and he'd make the seats in the back into a bed and we'd lie back there watching TV the whole way. It was the life.

We did all of this, and so did most other kids of our era, and we all survived.

Now I can't imagine getting in a car without wearing my seat belt. I almost feel naked without it.

My wife and I strap our younger kids into their child seats so they can barely even move, and expect them to stay that way for the 22 hour trip when we go to Florida to visit mom and dad.

Sure, it's inconvenient for them, and it's inconvenient for us too, but it is the right thing to do. It sure would be easy to have taken baby KK out of her car seat when she was crying like my mom used to do. But we know better now.

My kids automatically put their their seat belts on -- automatically -- before the car is even starts. If the car even moves before they click, I usually hear, "Dad, my safety restraint isn't on yet."

I hear this even if I'm still in a parking lot or driveway.

My wife likes to say, "We do things the way we always did them, until we learn better."

Because statistics prove that child safety seats save lives. Working in a hospital, I've seen what can happen when one doesn't wear seat belts.

I think it was when I was in my late teens, the late 1980s, when it became a law in Michigan that anyone in the front seat had to click it or ticket. All kids under 12 had to wear belts, no matter where they were in the car.

Recently, Parents magazine had a neat article posted on its website about the ten safest states for children. Michigan, my state, didn't come close to the top ten. But the categories for qualification were seat belt laws and laws requiring child safety seats.

However, a law requiring safety seats and booster seats in Michigan was passed after the article was posted, so I'd imagine we'll move up on the list the next time it is enacted.

Still, it shouldn't take a law for responsible parents to know the benefits of, and the proper methods, of restraining a child and keeping him or her safe.

According to, Children under 20 pounds should be in a rear facing safety seat, and in a five-point harness. Once a child is 40 pounds, he may be placed in a booster seat.

Still, I see a lot of parents -- even among my own relatives -- who don't have their children in booster seats.

Note to these parents: Your children are too small for regular seat belts. They could slip right out from them and out the window if you happen to flip the car.

According to the CDC, "Children should use a booster seat until the lap/shoulder belts in the car fit properly -- when they are at least 58 inches tall, have a sitting height of 29 inches and weigh 80 pounds (with clothing on).3 To ride comfortably and safely, children must be able to bend their knees over the edge of the seat while sitting with their backs firmly against the seat back. In most cases, this means that children 10 years old and younger should be using a booster seat."
For the latest CDC recommendations, click here.

Personally, I hate to see more laws being created, but when you see what happens when kids are not strapped into their seats properly, or in booster seats, you tend to wonder why more parents don't follow the simple advice that these things save lives.

I know why they don't: Because it's inconvenient to do these things. Ignorance, in my opinion, is no excuse.

I have always had my kids in booster seats. My son is nine and tall enough, so he doesn't need one anymore, but my 5-year-old was always in one even before the law was made. Yet, my wife always makes me aware of when she sees a small child in a front seat, or, worse, a child strapped in incorrectly in her safety seat.

I've been lucky and haven't had to see an improperly restrained, or not restrained at all, child in this ER. However, I know many RTs and RNs have seen the worst case scenarios.

I have seen way too many adults who were tossed from windows as the car flipped. Many times the adults in the front seat had their belts on, but the ones in the back did not because Michigan's law does not make it mandatory (that might not be the reason, but we'll assume so for the sake of this posting).

Note: people who do not buckle up are pinheads. Parents who do not properly secure their kids are worse than pinheads.

What about motorcycle helmet laws? Just last weekend I had two motorcycle-car collisions in my ER. In one case, a man was driving the cycle and the lady was piggybacking. When the car pulled out, the cycle t-boned the car and both passengers of the cycle were tossed (the drive of the car was fine and was ticketed for bad driving).

Both cyclists lived, and they were both wearing excellent helmets. However, they were both badly banged up, but they had no head injuries, of which they inevitably would have had if not for the helmets.

I'm telling you, when the doctor removed the bandage the EMTs put on the man's leg, I saw how mangled that bone was. It was awful. And I winced as the doctor felt for a pulse, and said to the patient, "Can you feel anything?"

The man said, "No."

The good news, though, was he was able to respond. The reason he was able to resond was because he had a good helmet on.

There was talk last summer about overturning Michigan's motorcycle helmet laws. I hope this does not happen. I think that would be like going back words.

Yes, I know it's an infringement on OUR right to be stupid. But, I think, when you come to the ER some day banged up but still alive because you followed the "Stupid" law, you will thank the person who wrote it.

You will thank them, even though their law was an inconvenience to you.

Note: people who do not wear motorcycle helmets are pinheads.

I guess my point here is, don't be a pinhead. It shouldn't take a law for you to know how to stay safe when riding in a car, motorcycle, or a bike.

And, at the very least, know how to keep your children safe. Don't even let them think there is an option.

Nobody expects to ever be in an accident, and it's for that very reason that we should keep our own selves and especially our children safe -- no matter the inconvenience.

Or, worded a better way: on the road safety comes first, convenience second.

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