Research has found that the number of injuries and fatalities has increased in the US among people who ski, snowboard and drive snowmobiles. A survey in 2004 recorded about 9,308 head injuries that required emergency medical treatment due to an accident while skiing or snowboarding. This figure had increased to 14,947 by 2010 – up 50%. Along with the rise in injuries, however, there has also been a 20% increase in the number of people wearing a helmet.
Last month, Western Michigan University’s Mark Christensen, the head researcher, said that head injuries needing emergency care due to a skiing or snowboarding accident have increased at a higher rate than other injuries. This is even despite a rise in the use of helmets. He noted that the most likely to get injured are teenagers, males and snowboarders.
Although there’s no accurate data about the exact benefits of wearing a helmet, some insurers are making it mandatory for their policyholders to wear them. The most recent to do this is Essential Travel, which has made the change under its Winter Sports Insurance policies. The UK insurer says that 77% of skiers and snowboarders currently wear helmets already – up 15% compared to figures from 2010.
In a survey of its customers, Essential Travel found that 73% of skiers and snowboarders believe they should be rewarded with lower travel insurance rates for deciding to protect themselves. Now, however, the company has made it mandatory for policyholders to wear a helmet in order to benefit from its Winter Sports Insurance policies. Those who choose not to wear a helmet will forfeit coverage under the policy.
This also follows Essential Travel launching an on-going safety campaign (Use Your Head) in 2010, a year after the death of actress Natasha Richardson. She sustained a head injury during a skiing lesson in Canada at the Mont Tremblant resort. When she fell, she wasn’t wearing a helmet and died from her injuries. Her death sparked a debate about the safety of skiers, and some observers called for helmets to become compulsory. The Use Your Head campaign has been backed by many tour operators, including Neilson, Headway and Ellis Brigham. Several also offer holiday discounts to customers who book insurance with Essential Travel.
Essential Travel head of sales Stuart Bensusan says that, while a helmet doesn’t reduce all injuries due to sports, it significantly reduces fatality risks. That warrants making the use of helmets mandatory, and they choose to support safety conscious skiers and snowboarders by rewarding them with lower premiums and extra discounts. A spokesman added that, although they may not always be able to prove if a customer wore a helmet in a claim, they will examine doctors’ notes and medical records for indications.
While it’s believed that other UK insurers will follow Essential Travel’s example, this isn’t the only country that is taking the use of helmets seriously. Last week, a new law in Nova Scotia has made it mandatory for alpine skiers and snowboarders of all ages to wear a helmet. This is a bid by the country to reduce the number of traumatic brain injuries and concussions. Anyone who doesn’t comply with the new legislation, which was passed last December, will be fined $250 by provincial enforcement officers, who will visit ski areas and investigate complaints of noncompliance.