Editorial: Use your head; stick a helmet on it

23:03, Jul 13 2010

There is always a risk the Government will be damned for creating a nanny state by introducing laws that save us from ourselves.

It is a possibility the lawmakers should be able to live with. Sometimes we just won't do what is needed to keep ourselves safe.

It took Rebecca Oaten nearly a decade to convince the country of the wisdom of wearing helmets when riding bicycles.

Neurosurgeons are starting to deliver the same message for people who hit the ski slopes.

Already this winter two people have died of head injuries suffered when they fell at the Mt Hutt skifield. There is no suggestion the skifield is at fault, and one of the victims was wearing a helmet that came off as she fell.

The number of serious injuries on skifields, though, is prompting an increasing number of medical specialists to suggest that helmets should be mandatory when skiing or snowboarding.

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Accidents on the slopes cost the country millions of dollars every year. Last year alone, 8204 people made claims to the Accident Compensation Corporation for ski injuries, which was down slightly from a peak in 2008. Mostly these were for strains, sprains and broken bones but reports suggest the tally included a sizeable number of serious injuries to bodily areas such as the brain.

These injuries are expensive for the country, through ACC, and devastating for the person. Usually the victims have only themselves to blame for taking risks and not wearing sufficient gear.

Numbers from skifields indicate tourists form a high proportion of the people pulled off the slopes with injuries, particularly Australians making the most of cheap winter package deals. That should send a warning to other people on the fields – that novice, out-of-control skiers are one of the causes of some accidents.

Just like cyclists wiped out on the roads by vehicles passing too close or not giving way, experienced or careful skiers have no control over who is heading their way, skis wide apart and arms flailing.

Some skifields are making it more affordable to wear helmets, selling the hard-hats at cost price or hiring them out cheaply. Ski clubs and some schools make it a requirement for children in their care to wear them.

It is time adults also started taking responsibility by setting a good example.

We have forgotten Rebecca Oaten, the Helmet Lady, started her crusade when her son Aaron was paralysed from the neck down after falling from his stationary cycle and bumping his head. That was in 1986 and it took until 1994 for the Government to make cycle helmets compulsory.

Their legacy is many lives saved. It is time to legislate for the same safety measure on skifields, both to save the country a great deal in medical costs and to save skiers and snowboarders from themselves.

The Marlborough Express