It’s skiing season – helmets on, please

February 15, 2011 by  
Filed under BRAIN

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It is that time of the year gain. All over Switzerland as well as in other parts of Europe, families are heading to the mountains. It is the annual 2-week winter sports holidays school break. Of course the skiing season started long before – late November/early December. But for sure, in the next 2 weeks, the slopes will be crowded with young skiers and snowboarders and sledgers. And for sure, the number of accidents will spike up.

The question comes up every year and no definite answer in sight. Should helmets be mandatory on the snow slopes? I mean, in most countries, motorcycle helmets are mandatory for everyone and bicycle helmets for kids. So why not when skiing or snowboarding?

The well-publicized 2009 fatal accident of actress Natasha Richardson added fuel to the debate in US. In Europe, a fatal accident involving a young mother and a German politician in the same year also attracted a lot of publicity. Some statistics to ponder on:

Almost 1.5 million Americans suffer from brain trauma each year. 50,000 of these cases are fatal. Studies have shown that on the slopes the following account for head injuries (from BBC):

  • 74% – skiers hit their head on the snow
  • 10% – collision with other skiers
  • 13% – collision with fixed objects such as a tree

Can helmets lower the mortality figures?

Here are what the scientists have to say (source: BBC):

In a more report in the British Medical journal:

Ski helmets reduce head injuries by 35% in adults and 59% in children under 13.

According to an Austrian study:

Between 9 and 19% of all skiing injuries reported by Austrian ski patrols and emergency departments are head injuries – and severe head injuries, including traumatic brain injury, are a leading cause of death in winter sports.

Yet another study found that:

Adults and children, of all ages, wearing a helmet while skiing were significantly less likely than those without a helmet to have a head injury.

A lot of people are actually wearing helmets voluntarily. According to the US National Ski Areas Association, 43% of skiers and snowboarders wear helmets. Helmet use is actually popular among well-skilled skiers and obligatory in Austria for skiers under 16.

So what do you think? Should helmets be obligatory?

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