When we think about motorcycles we think about the feel of the rushing wind in our faces and our hair blowing back behind us. We think about looking cool as we speed down the road. What we don’t think about is what happens to the human body when it is involved in a motorcycle collision with a car or van. We don’t think about the impact of the collision, the body being thrown clear and sliding along the road’s surface until it stops on its own or until it encounters a fence or a telephone pole.

It was the death of a race car driver that sparked interest in helmet safety in this country. In 1956, William Snell was killed when his helmet failed to protect him in what was deemed a survivable race car accident. Since that time, the standards for helmets have been regulated by the American National Standards Institute, with the input of the Snell Memorial Foundation. While we can regulate helmet safety, it is not always possible to get people to wear them. Unless they are mandated by law, many people refuse to do so.

According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, just under half of all motorcycle deaths between 1990 and 1993 resulted because the rider was not wearing a safety helmet. Even if death is avoided when the helmetless rider was injured, there may still be drastic consequences. Head, neck and back injuries may leave riders paralyzed or handicapped for life.

Ironically, the very people who reject motorcycle helmets think nothing about wearing a helmet for sports activities. No one questions the use of helmets in, for example, football or ice hockey. Helmets protect the players from injury.

The Cleveland Clinic Health Information Center states that injury can be prevented through the use of properly fitted helmets. There are different kinds of safety helmet for sports. It is critical to wear the right size. A loose fitting helmet cannot protect the head because it will move when impacted. The helmet should always touch the head all the way around.

We don’t often think about getting injured on a bicycle, but, according to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, nearly 540,000 bicyclists are injured seriously enough each year to require visiting an emergency room. Of this number, 67,000 have head injuries. The Snell Foundation has also developed standards for bicycle helmets.

As with motorcycle helmets, bicycle helmets should fit the head properly. Loose helmets do not protect the head. Straps should be adjusted to ensure the best fit. Many helmets are made from expanded polystyrene, but no other material is considered best for helmets. Bicycle helmets protect the head by absorbing energy and lessening the force of the impact. Their light weight make them ideal for the bicycle riders.