Avoid more than just scrapes

During these first few weeks of classes you will be sure to find hordes of cyclists and boarders flooding through the crowded paths around campus. Just as reliable, one thing will be absent. Let me ask youÑwhen was the last time you saw someone wearing a helmet?

This cultural norm is certainly not unique to UVM, but present all across America. Throughout the country, helmet usage is nearly non-existent among teens and young adults.

The most commonly cited reason for not wearing a helmet is that itÕs not necessary. The premise behind this is usually either that the speaker believes they will not fall, or that they will not get hurt if they do fall.

Neither of these beliefs are reasonable, and stem from a poorly done analysis of probability.

Young adults are often classified as risk takers because they tend to disregard consideration of unfavorable outcomes if the odds are low, in sort of a heightened state of optimism.

It is true that any one person on a given day has a very low chance of wiping out. Taking a step back however, over a lifetime of riding, that same person has a very high likelihood of having an accident at least once along the way.

The idea that one will not get hurt if they fall is ridiculous. Given that one does fall, the odds of getting hurt are overwhelmingly high. It all depends on circumstance, but if you hit your head, there is a very high risk of concussion, brain trauma, or death.

These accidents sound extreme and unlikely, but they really do happen, and can happen to anyone.

My cousin and friend, Jamie Mayer, a Franklin Pierce University student was in a longboarding accident in April, 2013. After colliding with another longboarder, Jamie hit his head on the pavement and was knocked unconscious.

He was airlifted to the Massachusetts Medical Center for traumatic brain injuries and had surgery shortly after, then remained in a coma for weeks. The surgery was unsuccessful. Jamie passed away days later.

Just a year ago this August, tragedy struck right here in Burlington. Champlain College first year Peter Cernansky was in a similar longboarding accident. He was riding down Spruce Street when he fell and hit his head. He passed away at Fletcher Allen shortly after.

The reality is that both of these truly awful events might have been prevented had the riders been wearing helmets.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, in 2009, 91 percent of cyclists who died in accidents were not wearing helmets. Helmets have scientifically been proven to have an extraordinary success rate.

The overwhelming majority of accident victims who wore helmets either survived, had drastically reduced brain injury, or had no brain injury at all. Helmets save lives.

While wearing a helmet is sometimes described as being uncomfortable or unnecessary, another primary reason for not wearing one is that itÕs Ònot cool.Ó

Ask any person under the age of 30 in America and they will confirm that there is a fairly powerful stigma about wearing one. I would hope that oneÕs life takes priority over looking trendy.

As an avid cyclist and a die-hard wearer of helmets I can attest to the presence of this stigma. I often sense judgmental glances from bystanders and have even been confronted by people who criticize and ask why I wear it.

IÕve asked friends to explain to me why the stigma exists. Each time the response has been that theyÕre unsure, or that ÒitÕs just not cool but I donÕt know why.Ó

Ask yourself the same question. If you have a legitimate response I invite you to write an explanation of it in a letter to the Cynic.

It frustrates me to see the stigma persist. It is completely unfounded, yet nobody is willing to go ahead and challenge it.

As an epicenter for cultural revolution, UVM would be the perfect starting place to overturn an unfounded and foolish social norm.

I challenge you to risk adverse criticism from the ignorant, and be that one to who pioneers a new sensible model that will preserve life and love for generations to come.


In memory of Jamie Mayer, 1994-2013