Ski Helmets, OK; Mandatory, No


As one expert put it, Michael Kennedy was not killed in a skiing accident, but by doing something stupid while on skis--playing a game of catch with a football.

Then came the death of Rep. Sonny Bono at Lake Tahoe. The exact circumstances of his mishap are not known, but each man suffered fatal head and neck injuries after running off the ski run and striking a tree.

Now, predictably, there is a growing cry for skiiers to wear helmets and even some calls for mandating their use. A committee of the American Medical Assn. is said to be considering recommendation of such a rule.


But extensive studies show that only a tiny number of skiing accidents result in severe head injuries. Experts question whether a helmet would have prevented the death of either Kennedy or Bono.

After more thought and study, the AMA should conclude that a mandatory helmet rule would provide negligible benefit at best.

Prudent parents will outfit their children in helmets. Any adult who would feel safer with a helmet should wear one. But skiing is not analogous to riding a motorcycle or even a bicycle. The overwhelming majority of injuries are to the knees and thumb, not the head.

The proper response to the Kennedy and Bono accidents is tougher enforcement of safe skiing rules by ski patrols. In particular, the patrol should rein in experts who cruise intermediate slopes at excessive speed.

In skiing, it’s certain that speed kills.