Lynne Tolman's 1995 Article about
TELEGRAM & GAZETTE, Worcester, Mass.
August 13, 1995
Use your head: Wear a helmet
By Lynne Tolman
Rebecca and Paul Cooke of Boylston have had some bad days on bikes
this year, but a common-sense precaution kept their mishaps from
The Cookes race for the UMassters, an amateur team based at the
University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester, where Paul
Cooke, 38, is an anesthesiologist. His wife, 35, is an engineer with
Commonwealth Gas Co. in Southboro.
The couple was winding up an easy training ride when a truck pulling
out from a side street caught them by surprise. Paul hit the brakes,
and Rebecca, right on his wheel, slammed her brakes too hard. Over the
handlebars she went, head first.
She suffered a mild concussion and some scrapes but was able to ride
home. "The helmet was scraped, so it was obvious the helmet took the
impact instead of my head," she said.
Her husband's brush with the pavement came during a spring race in
Plymouth. Wheels overlapped, and he lost his balance. His helmet had a
big crack in the polystyrene foam liner, but his head was not injured.
Under the helmet maker's crash replacement policy, both Cookes traded
their damaged lids for new helmets, paying only a modest shipping and
"It's crazy not to wear a helmet," Rebecca Cooke said. "They make
them so light, and the vents actually channel air to your head for
That ought to be the last word on the subject. But resistance to
helmets persists, especially among European racers, whose traditions
trickle down to the cycling masses worldwide. When Motorola rider Fabio
Casartelli died in a mountain crash during the Tour de France last
month, the Tour's senior doctor said a helmet wouldn't have saved him
because the fatal blow was to a part of the head that a helmet doesn't
However, the forensic doctor who examined the body told The Sunday
Times of London that the impact was to the top of the skull, and with a
hard helmet, "some injuries could have been avoided."
Wearing a helmet reduces a cyclist's risk of head injury by 85
percent, according to a study reported in the New England Journal of
Medicine in 1989.
Nonetheless, Hein Verbruggen, president of the International Cycling
Union (UCI), told Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport after the Tour de France,
"Even on this occasion, the UCI has decided not to change its position:
Forcing athletes to wear a helmet would be ridiculous in certain
The UCI had imposed a helmet rule for the Tour in 1991, but riders
rebelled and the UCI backed down.
Without Verbruggen's leadership, it is unlikely the Tour's policy on
helmets will change soon, said Les Earnest, a board member of the U.S.
Cycling Federation, which has required racers to wear helmets since
Only a few other countries require helmets for racers: Belgium and
the Netherlands for the pros, the United Kingdom for amateurs, Australia
for both. Some racers still use "leather hairnets," which consist of
lightly padded straps that offer hardly any protection.
A common excuse for not wearing helmets is that they are too hot.
However, lab tests show that helmets are actually cooler than the cloth
caps many pro racers wear, according to Phil Graitcer, director of the
World Health Organization's helmet initiative.
Most bike crashes aren't "head-on at 55 mph" like Casartelli's,
Graitcer said, but that accident points up that "you need to wear a
helmet all the time, not just in traffic." Graitcer said 80 percent of
bike crashes do not involve cars; it's just one or more cyclists meeting
Casartelli's death prompted the U.S. Product Safety Commission to
issue a press release urging all cyclists to wear helmets "no matter
what their age or level of skill." An estimated 600,000 bicycle-related
injuries were treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms last year, about
a third of them injuries to the head or face, according to the
commission's chairman, Ann Brown.
The United States logs more than 700 cycling deaths each year, with
the highest death rate among 10- to 14-year-olds.
Americans seem most comfortable insisting on helmets when it comes to
children. Thirteen states, including Massachusetts, have passed laws
requiring children on bikes to wear helmets, and cities or
counties in a half-dozen other states have done the same. A few
counties have such laws for cyclists of all ages, as do Australia, New
Zealand and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia.
For cyclists with any gray matter to protect, donning a helmet just
makes sense, said Dr. Tom Breen, an orthopedist at UMass who's team
doctor for the Saturn pro squad and rides with the UMassters. It
becomes second nature, like wearing a seat belt in the car, he said. "I
hate to say it, but it's a no-brainer."
BIKE HELMETS REQUIRED BY LAW
STATE AGE GROUP EFFECTIVE DATE
New Jersey under 14 July 1, 1992
Georgia under 16 July 1, 1993
Connecticut under 12 Oct. 1, 1993
Tennessee under 12 Jan. 1, 1994
California under 18 Jan. 1, 1994
Massachusetts under 13 March 8, 1994
New York under 14 June 1, 1994
Oregon under 16 July 1, 1994
Pennsylvania under 12 March 1, 1995
Alabama under 16 Sept. 19, 1995
Maryland under 16 Oct. 1, 1995
Delaware under 16 April 1, 1996
Rhode Island under 8 July 1, 1996
SOURCE: BICYCLE HELMET SAFETY INSTITUTE
Copyright 1995 by Lynne Tolman, All Rights Reserved. Broadcast,
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