Opinion

There’s no doubt: helmets save lives

Most people have accepted the fact that a helmet is a necessary safety item whether the wearer is operating a bicycle, motorcycle, a whitewater kayak or a board of one type or another. There are exceptions, of course, including a large majority of the bicyclists in Eugene, Ore., where going helmetless on city and University of Oregon streets is the cool thing to do. Those Oregon Ducks have a tendency to live on the wild side.

They might change their minds and strap on a helmet if they had a busy two-lane highway running through the city as does Bainbridge Island, where only a bicyclist with suicidal tendencies would pedal on State Route 305 or the island’s rural roads without a head protector. Just ask Mark Seawell, an islander who is lucky to be alive after his helmeted head was run over last month by the right-rear tire of a Dodge Ram making a left turn off SR-305. Despite the crushing blow, Seawell suffered only a concussion and spent one night in Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center before going home.

Not surprisingly, several people – mostly parents – have inquired about the make of Seawell’s helmet. They want to buy one just like it. According to Bainbridge Police, he was wearing a Bell Reflux helmet, which split into two parts – one smashed into small pieces and the other remaining whole – after a tire of the two-ton pickup rolled over the 60-year-old’s head. Seawell said he paid $50 for the helmet, and while he’s always been a believer in helmet safety, “Now, I will always buy the most expensive helmet I can find.”

Maybe he should just buy another Reflux.

A marketing specialist for Bell said the company’s policy is to give a replacement helmet – at a discount – to a wearer when the old one is damaged, but the person must write to them and provide details of the accident. He said that many of the stories are “sometimes beyond belief.” He said there was a similar accident in Wisconsin, where bicyclist was clipped by the side mirror of a box truck, then had a rear tire roll over his helmeted head. The victim’s injuries were also minor.

He also described an accident a couple of years ago when an Indy Car pit crew worker – wearing a helmet – fell under the car as it pulled away to re-enter the race and had his head run over by a very large rear tire. Again, his injuries were minimal. Bell engineers concluded after looking at the replay of the incident that the helmet caused a ramp effect with the tire bouncing up and over the man’s head.

The Bell employee said the price of the Reflux (now $64 retail online) is mid-range, but that it meets the company’s stringent impact requirements. Consumer Reports magazine tested bike helmets in 2004 and said Reflux was one of three helmets that failed because the buckle broke during the test. Bell said there was “failure” because of CR’s improper testing techniques.

It’s doubtful Seawell knows whether or not his shattered helmet’s buckle failed during the crash, but he knows that he, thanks to the helmet, can take a severe blow to the head and live to tell about it. And yes, said the Bell marketeer, Seawell should contact the company because there’s “a good chance he’d qualify for a new helmet.”

You can bet that Seawell, who likes to take daily bicycle trips around the island, already has a new one.

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