When a motor vehicle and a bicycle collide, the bicyclist is almost always hurt. In the latest year for which data is available, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation says that a bicyclist is injured or killed in the state every 10 hours. In 2013, 868 bicyclists were injured in 958 crashes. Worse yet, 10 bicyclists died in such collisions.
Injury in an Instant
A July 6, 2016, Consumer Reports article details the series of events that occur in the fraction of a second when a bicyclist is struck by a motor vehicle. Ultimately, it underscores the importance of a bike helmet in reducing damage to the brain.
A bicycle’s motion suddenly shifts the moment a vehicle strikes it. Although some energy dissipates as the bicycle frame or a wheel crumples, the energy absorbed is far less than that absorbed by the far more substantial crumple zones in a typical automobile.
In milliseconds, the bike stops even though the bicyclist continues to move. Whether the rider flies forward over the handlebars or goes down sideways a fall to the ground, the result is typically a substantial impact to the human skull.
Brain Injury Potential
In a crash, one’s head often accelerates to such a degree that, even as the skull comes to a stop, the fluid in which the brain is suspended continues to move. In the case of a more linear impact, the brain moves more directly back and forth in the fluid until it comes to a stop.
In non-linear impacts, the brain may also rotate as it moves back-and-forth, and this rotational movement may increase tissue damage. Damage to brain cells might occur due to stretching, twisting or even rupturing. Any of these dramatic changes may result in chemical alterations that reduce the ability of cells to relay information as they once did.
The resulting concussion may be mild, moderate or severe. With even a mild concussion, victims may experience memory loss, confusion, cognitive impairment and concentration problems. To better assess a bicyclist’s brain damage, a physician often conducts a comprehensive neurological examination.
Importance of Helmets
Given the catastrophic potential of bike accidents, the importance of helmet use cannot be understated. To ensure proper helmet performance, the Consumer Product Safety Commission conducts a helmet test that simulates impact speeds of 10.7 to 13.9 mph, consistent with estimates that, in a free fall, one’s head hits the ground at approximately 9.5 to 13.5 mph.
Bike helmets often include a relatively thin outer shell and a thicker polystyrene core. The rugged outer shell protects the head from puncturing caused by sharp objects. The foam core serves another critical function. By compressing or even breaking at impact, kinetic force is spread over a wider area, and this extends the time required for the skull to come to a total stop. Ideally, this dissipates enough energy to prevent skull fractures and the tearing of major blood vessels.
Impact Without Helmet
Although dire results may occur even when a bicyclist is wearing an approved helmet, an unprotected head hits the pavement in a crash, the amount of brain damage quickly escalates. A concussion might be more severe, and the likelihood of lasting brain damage increases. In some unfortunate cases, the lack of a helmet results in a skull fracture and/or rupture of a major blood vessel, leading to a fatality that might otherwise have been avoided by the use of an approved bike helmet.
Although there are numerous ways to try to stay out of harm’s way when bicycling, wearing a helmet goes a long way toward decreasing brain injury potential should a crash occur.
Should you or a family member become a victim in a bicycle accident, it is possible to review the matter with an attorney focused on relevant areas of personal injury law. When it is reasonable to claim that negligent conduct of another individual lead to injury or death, it is often possible to seek compensatory damages for a variety of losses and expenses, including medical costs, pain, suffering and lost wages.
Our firm provides a consultation with a Wisconsin bicycle accident lawyer at no cost to you. We always fight hard to get our clients every dollar they deserve under the law. To learn more about our legal services, or to ask your questions, please contact us.