In 1970′s rural Minnesota, my parents let me ride my bike. I made jumps out of wood scraps, regularly rode 2 miles alone to the library and rode back loaded with books. The ape hanger handlebars and a banana seat were cool, but not as cool as my brother’s Evel Knievel knobby-tired bike. We had never heard of BMX and nobody had invented Mountain bikes yet. I never wore a helmet.
I recently suggested a poll idea on the GeekDad’s secret comm channel and off-handedly suggested that letting your kids ride bikes without helmets was relatively innocuous as Bad Dad behavior goes. The response was quick and overwhelming.
When I was 25, working my first career job, I rode my bike into work in downtown Oakland everyday down Broadway. Didn’t wear a helmet. One day, my boss gave me flack about it, and being slightly afraid of him, I went out and got a helmet and started wearing it on my ride to and from work. Three weeks later, a car hit me, and I suffered a mild concussion and spent two days in the hospital. The concussion was mild because I’d been wearing the helmet. The bike was totaled.
So, I got real damn lucky. And now my kids always wear their helmets.
OH. Well, I always wear my helmet on the road, and my kids only go up and down the sidewalk. When they start riding on the street, I’ll make them wear helmets again.
Going unpadded is one thing. Broken bones heal. Going unhelmeted is
just plain dumb. "Bad Dad" stuff is fun as long as it rides that
little edge of "See? This won’t kill a kid!" The minute we cross over
into "Hey, look…this _could_ kill your kid!" I think we’ve stopped
being cute and entertaining, and started being negligent. I’d rather
not see that.
The Geekdads who responded had significant personal experience with head trauma or death when a helmet could have made a difference. Um, really this is a question of risk analysis and perception, right? So if the perceived risk is really low, it’s ok, right?.
I took an informal poll of some local dads. The consensus was that helmets are no big deal just riding around the house. My point proved? Nope, we transitioned into talking about lifejacket safety. After a close call (picture a toddler reaching up from clear water over his head), parents slapped a lifejacket on them every time they were within sight of a body of water. The time required to snap on a lifejacket suddenly became worth the effort when the potential loss was clear.
How badly can they get hurt riding . . . whoa.
Why am I asking stupid questions? These are my kids. One broke an arm falling off a bed, the other broke his on a teeter totter. The risk may be statistically low, but the cost of making them wear helmets is nil compared to the potential injury. Nostalgia for the good old days turns out to be a lousy reason not to enforce helmets.
The helmet rule is going to be more consistent from now on at our house.
If you or your kids are getting into riding, here are some useful tips from the NHTSA.