By Hakeem Shakir

Buffalo is well into its beautiful summer, which means increased outdoor activity including more bicyclists and motorcyclists utilizing our streets and roadways. It is appalling and unsettling to see how many people, young and old alike, venture into the streets on their bicycles and motorcycles without appropriate protection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that head injury is the most common cause of death and serious disability in bicycle-related crashes; head injuries are involved in about 60 percent of the deaths, and 30 percent of the bicycle-related emergency department visits.

As a neurosurgery resident at the University at Buffalo specializing in the brain and spine, I am frequently called to the emergency department of Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo to evaluate and treat head traumas and spine injuries. It is frustrating that the vast majority of these sometimes life-altering traumas can be prevented with something incredibly simple: a helmet.

A plain plastic or metal cover that protects the skull and its contents from the perils of sometimes unavoidable accidents can save lives, reduce injuries and even decrease the cost burden of an emergency room visit.

As I drove through downtown Buffalo on a Sunday evening, I was saddened to see a mass of more than 50 bicyclists ride through the streets with maybe three participants helmeted. I rolled my window down as I was stopped and asked, “Where are your helmets?” The flippant response I received was simply, “learn to share the road.” This is simply unacceptable.

The effects of head trauma on youth – even something that may not leave an overt scar, such as a concussion – can potentially debilitate a young individual well beyond the initial trauma.

Conversely, the patients I’ve seen who wear helmets often walk away unscathed and unharmed from what in all likelihood could have been life-changing. Again, the CDC estimates that an average of 384 children die annually from bicycle crashes and 153,000 children are treated in emergency departments for bicycle-related head injuries.

We must make a change; it all begins with increasing awareness and enforcing helmet use. I urge parents to make a commitment to bike safety by requiring their children to wear helmets and take the first step toward protecting our future.

Hakeem Shakir, M.D., is a resident in the University at Buffalo’s Department of Neurosurgery.