Helmet Laws for Old People

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Speaking of seat belt laws, this AP story credits various injury prevention programs and stricter seat belt laws for the reported 11 percent drop in the death rate due to brain injury in the U.S. between 1989 and 1998.

(It caught my eye because my 3-year-old daughter already has more personal safety gear than I've ever owned in my life. We recently had to buy her a third helmet, made especially for ice skating, because her bike helmets didn't meet our city's Rec Department standards.)

Actually, the Centers for Disease Control report on which the story is based offers zero evidence on the cause of the decline; it only speculates that "primary enforcement of restraint laws, graduated licensing of new drivers, and community-based health education campaigns" deserve the credit.

A few other notable things not in the story: Forty percent of the deaths tracked by the CDC involve firearms (the single largest cause)—and most of those are suicides. And the rate of brain injury death due to guns fell 14 percent over that 10-year period (hard to see how tough seat belt laws helped there).

The death rate from brain injuries due to falls actually increased by 25%. Falls are the leading cause of these kinds of deaths for people 75 years and older. Turns out that old folks are about 57 times more likely to die from a brain injury due to a fall than are 3-year-olds like my daughter.

If the CDC thinks compulsory safety measures are so great, why don't they push for laws requiring seniors to wear helmets all of the time? Let Medicare pick up the tab.

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