AAN, which is the largest association of neurologists in the world (more than 25,000 members) and the largest trade association in Minnesota, is handing out the helmets to raise awareness of head injuries and other neurological conditions and to mark the opening of its new headquarters at Chicago Avenue and 2nd Street, right across from the site of the weekly market.
This is the third time within the past 18 months that the AAN has hosted a bike-helmet giveaway. For the past two springs, it has donated 1,000 bike helmets to children in north Minneapolis through bike fests hosted by Venture North, a nonprofit organization that helps kids get work experience through fixing bikes.
Helmets are, of course, key to preventing bicycle-related head injuries. Research has shown that wearing a helmet properly and consistently can reduce the risk of brain injury in bicycling accidents by at least 85 percent.
Yet, according to the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance, only about 8 percent of Minnesota’s bike riders wear a helmet consistently.
Still, that’s “far greater than most other places in the nation,” said Mark Kinde, director of the Minnesota Department of Health’s Injury & Violence Prevention Program, in a phone interview Thursday.
According to MDH statistics, there were 6,227 bicycle-related injuries in Minnesota in 2010 (the latest year for which there are a full 12 months of data). Those are injuries that were either treated in a hospital emergency room or required hospitalization. Nine cyclists were killed that year.
Both those numbers are a slight decline from the previous year — despite the fact that more Minnesotans are bicycling. Kinde said that he expects the final numbers for 2011 will also show a decline.
Why are the injury numbers going down while ridership is going up? Kinde said he can’t be sure, but he believes both cyclists and motorists are acting more tolerantly and safely while sharing the roads.
Of the cyclists injured in 2011, 551 experienced a head injury. Most of those injuries could have been avoided if the rider had been wearing a helmet.
“The data are clear,” said Kinde. “The helmet works.”
Yet, although Kinde would like everybody to wear a helmet, he also wants more people to ride bikes — even if those people stubbornly (and foolishly) refuse to don protective headgear.
According to the MDH, the most common reasons cited for not wearing a helmet are “it’s uncomfortable,” “it’s hot,” “it’s annoying,” “I don’t need it” or “I don’t own one.”
“My mission is working with injury prevention, so I’m committed to getting as many people wearing helmets as possible. But if I can’t get a helmet on everyone, it’s still important for people to bike,” said Kinde.
The health benefits of biking are so strong, he said, that it’s better to bike — even without a helmet — than not to bike at all.
Parents, though, should never let their children ride without a helmet. Yet they do, often with devastating consequences. Children aged 5 to 14 account for 13 percent of the bicycle-related brain injuries in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance.
If your family is short a helmet or if “I don’t own one” is your excuse for not wearing one while cycling, then trek down to the Mill City Farmers Market on Saturday morning. The AAN will be handing out their free helmets under a large tent. It will be first come, first serve, so get there early. The market opens at 8 a.m.