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Bicycle helmet use mandatory

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- An Air Force officer rides his bicycle to work on April 20, 2009. Bicycle safety and helmet use is mandated for all U.S. military, dependents and contractors.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Chad Strohmeyer)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- An Air Force officer rides his bicycle to work on April 20, 2009. Bicycle safety and helmet use is mandated for all U.S. military, dependents and contractors. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Chad Strohmeyer)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Bicycle riding is very common in Japan and Misawa residents will often see locals riding their bikes around town. However, military members and their families must follow a different set of riding rules. 

35th Fighter Wing Instruction 31-204, Misawa Air Base Motor Vehicle Traffic Supervision provides a complete list of rules and requirements for riders. Most requirements focus on traffic and rider safety. 

"Make sure bikes have required safety equipment, such as reflectors and a front lamp," said Tech. Sgt. Carlos Rogers, 35th Fighter Wing safety office. "Always be seen - during the day, wear bright clothing and at night wear reflective clothing designed to bounce back motorists' headlight beams." 

All bicycle riders should ride with the flow of traffic on roadways or designated bicycle paths; and ride as near to the left as possible. It's also vital every rider wear an approved helmet. Skateboarders, scooter riders and roller skaters also are required to wear a helmet and are encouraged to wear additional protective gear. 

Many parents underestimate the risk of children sustaining a brain injury while riding on wheels, according to Maj. Michael Johnson, 35th Medical Operations Squadron urgent care clinic flight commander. Nearly 28 million children ages 5 to 14 ride bikes, and the popularity of scooters, skates, skateboards and other wheeled sports has skyrocketed. Each year thousands of these kids are disabled or die as a result of a wheel-related brain injury. 

A fall from as little as 2 feet can result in a traumatic brain injury. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the leading killer and disabler of children, according to Major Johnson. Each year, 3,000 children are killed and approximately 29,000 are hospitalized due to TBI. The most important organ in the body, the brain is also one of the most fragile. Although the skull provides some natural protection, a helmet provides the best protection. 

"A helmet is the simplest, most cost-effective way to prevent wheel-related TBI," said Major Johnson. "Helmets can reduce the risk of brain injury by as much as 88 percent. Unfortunately, it is estimated that only 15 to 25 percent of kids wear helmets. And I see a lot of people wearing incorrect helmets - bicycle riders are wearing skateboarding helmets. There are different helmets for different sports and people should be wearing the proper ones." 

Wearing a helmet can reduce the risk of head injury by as much as 85 percent, according to Major Johnson. People should also follow the manufacturer's directions for the proper wear of the helmet. Manufacturer's directions can also provide information on the life-span of a good helmet. 

"It's ok to wear the same helmet the following year, but make sure it is still in good condition," Major Johnson said. "I see a lot of helmets on kids that have been dropped, left in the sun and the plastic is cracking. These helmets need to be replaced." 

For more information on bicycle helmets, to include a buyer's guide and tips for proper fit, visit the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute Web site at www.bhsi.org.