This was published in June 2012 in the Northampton, Massachusetts, USA newspaper Daily Hampshire Gazette; I’ve changed the pronouns to reflect my ex’s gender more accurately.
After reading two articles in the last five days in the Daily Hampshire Gazette about young bicyclists involved in collisions with cars – one of them a fatal accident – I’ve decided to risk becoming the Valley’s bicycling crank and say what no one else seems to be saying.
Like many people who live in the Northampton area, I, too, feel horrible about the death of 18-year-old Harry Delmolino almost a week ago, after he was hit by a car at the intersection of Main and King/Pleasant streets on May 20. From what I can tell from media reports, Delmolino was a bright, likeable young person with an incredible future before him. This morning the Gazette reported that a 12-year-old boy received critical injuries three days ago when his bike was struck by a car in Southampton.
Neither of these young people was wearing a helmet. Granted, I do not know whether having worn one would’ve prevented their specific injuries. But I’m willing to bet it would have offered them more protection during a collision with a vehicle that weighs a couple of tons. Various schools of thought exist on the efficacy of helmet use, but we can debate until the cows come home. In the meanwhile, helmets don’t cost that much, don’t take long to put on, and aren’t difficult to wear. Unless someone is truly impoverished, they can afford the $30 or so to help prevent serious brain injury or death.
I’m willing to see the gray in many areas of life, but this isn’t one of them. The reasons friends give me for not wearing a helmet are simply stupid: they don’t like the way it feels or what it does to their hair, or they don’t want to be bothered if they’re riding only a couple of blocks (as if accidents happen only miles from home).
In nearly 30 years of bicycle commuting, I’ve bounced my head off the pavement after sliding on a rain-slick road, and I’ve been grazed by cars several times. In each case I’ve been grateful for the plastic and foam protecting my skull. Years ago my father had a co-worker who suffered permanent brain damage in a cycling accident; he was alive because he’d worn a helmet. Some years later, my ex-partner’s wheel fell into a pothole, ze went over the handlebars, hit hir head on the street, and passed out. When ze regained consciousness in the emergency room, ze told me that my insistence on helmet use may have saved hir life.
Wear a helmet, and make sure your children wear them. Period, end of sentence.