KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Better-looking helmets, increased awareness and improved law enforcement could save bicyclists’ lives, a protective headgear researcher at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville said Wednesday.
David Halstead, who heads UT-Knoxville’s Sports Biomechanics Impact Research Laboratory, said helmets reduce the risk of bicycling head injuries 85 percent.
However, a recently published U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission report, based on a nationwide survey, indicates that only about 15 percent of 26.4 million bicyclists under age 15 use helmets regularly.
Halstead said youths often consider the helmets unattractive or uncomfortable.
UT researchers believe bicycle helmets can be less-intrusive and more stylistically attractive without sacrificing performance features, he said.
“We’re trying to find out how minimal a helmet can be, so it can be as appealing (aesthetically) as possible, while at the same time offering maximum protection,” Halstead said. “Those are the kinds of recommendations that need to be made to get more people to wear helmets.”
Halstead said UT makes design suggestions to the Protective Headgear Manufacturers Association and the American Society of Testing and Materials, where he chairs the headgear division. UT also tests helmets for California-based Bell, the nation’s largest manufacturer of bicycle helmets, he said.
Halstead said many parents didn’t wear helmets when they rode bikes as children, and the importance of helmet safety isn’t stressed to some children.
“Until the 1970′s there weren’t any bicycle helmets,” Halstead said. “We all thought the likelihood of being seriously injured in a bicycle accident was slim. If you (adults) didn’t wear one, its less likely your children will.”
Tennessee is one of 13 states with bicycle helmet laws.
It applies only to children under 15 on state highways and is not strictly enforced, Halstead said.
“The law is good because it helps increase awareness, but I don’t think it is strictly enforced,” he said.
Nationwide, an estimated 250 children die each year in bicycle accidents and another 400,000 who are injured require medical attention, according to the Washington-based National Safe Kids Campaign.
Contact: David Halstead (423-974-2070)