I now have one more reason to love George Clooney.
Put aside his humble humor, his dashing Irish good looks, and his charitable works. I love George Clooney because George Clooney wears his helmet.
George—as I call him—was injured last year when the motorcycle he was driving collided with an automobile. Clooney suffered a broken rib and scrapes, and his passenger broke her foot. Because both were wearing helmets, they were treated at a New Jersey hospital and released and have gone on with their lives.
George is a smart guy, so he probably already knows that bike helmets, when worn correctly, are 85 percent effective in preventing brain injuries. I’m guessing he’s aware that motorcyclists are fourteen times more likely than those in a car to die in a crash and three times more likely to be injured, and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says motorcyclists represent 6 percent of all traffic deaths, yet account for less than 2 percent of all registered vehicles in the United States. George even may know that 80 percent of all motorcycle injuries end in death or injury and that fatalities have increased 89% since 1997.
But George probably hasn’t read the study of 2,462 Wisconsin motorcycle crash victims in 2002, which concluded motorcycle riders who are inpatients or die in a crash are less likely to be helmeted and more likely to sustain head or face injuries, and alcohol use is associated with un-helmeted riding and increased risk of poor outcomes.
Or that another study of motorcycle accident victims in 1991 found total initial inpatient hospital charges for ninety-seven un-helmeted motorcyclists with brain injuries was $2,396,366 – compared with $333,619 for seventeen helmeted motorcyclists with brain injuries. (That’s not counting the cost of long-care care.)
So what’s the point?
The point is most bike and motorcycle brain injuries and deaths are preventable by use of a $40 accessory known as a helmet. The point is the prevention of these injuries would save thousands of lives, millions of health care dollars and a lot of heartache in the Badger State, but because helmets aren’t mandatory, these losses go on.
Wisconsin requires helmets only on motorcyclists younger than seventeen or those with a learner’s permit. It does not require bicycle helmets at all.
So why do I care? I care because of my seventeen-year-old son and his friends and my nephews and my friends’ kids. I care because I’ve seen what happens to young people without helmets. They don’t get to grow up to be George Clooney or anyone else.
Years ago, I worked at a hospital with a brain injury unit. On weekends, I sometimes worked as a receptionist to that wing of the hospital. The causes of injury to the younger patients were overwhelmingly bike or motorcycle accidents or gunshot wounds.
One mother came every Saturday and Sunday, rain or shine, and stayed all day. Her son was a handsome teen with thick dark hair. They would sit outside when it was sunny. He had to sit, of course. He was confined to a wheelchair and couldn’t even move his head unassisted. The first time I saw his mother hold a cup with a drinking straw to his mouth—he couldn’t even sip from the cup—I started to cry.
I would come home from work and lecture my son about wearing his helmet. I would ground him if I caught him riding without it, even in the driveway.
Ten years later, I’m still doing it.
Because I love my son even more than I love George Clooney.