A helmet is to bike or skating safety what a seatbelt is to car safety, yet far too many parents still let their children ride without a helmet. While most parents insist on seatbelts, a recent survey conducted in 2009 by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital found that only 53% of parents say their preteen children ages 4 to 11 always wear a helmet when riding a bicycle. The problem gets even worse among teens, with only 29% of parents saying their kids age twelve to seventeen always wear a helmet.
The importance of bicycle helmets
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is the leading cause of disability in children, and its damage can be life-altering. Every year around 65,000 kids under the age of 18 suffer TBI, often times leaving a child with permanent brain damage. They might end up unable to speak, control their body properly, or even feed themselves. Bicycle, scooter and skateboard accidents are a leading contributor to these injuries, and most are completely avoidable. John T. Gill, M.D., spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, points out that “studies have shown that wearing a properly fitted and safety-approved bicycle helmet can reduce head injuries by up to 85 percent.” (Cruise, 2007) It is estimated that between 135 and 155 childhood deaths could be prevented each year through the simple use of a helmet. Another 39,000 to 45,000 head injuries could also be prevented. Ninety-two percent of bicyclists killed in 2007 weren’t wearing a helmet, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. (Feb. 2009 Consumer Reports, pp. 8-9)
The main reasons why kids don’t wear their helmets
When surveys are conducted about why children do not wear a helmet when riding their bicycle, more than half give a simple response: their parents don’t make them. Other reasons can include not liking the way it feels, saying that wearing their helmet is uncomfortable, or not liking the way it looks. Yet the primary reason for not wearing a helmet always comes down to the fact that adults do not enforce it. So make helmet wearing mandatory with your kids, (the earlier you start this rule, the less hassle you’ll have in enforcing it later), and follow the other advice on this page to ensure your child ends up with a comfortable helmet that they’re willing to wear.
Guidelines for purchasing a bicycle helmet for your child
- Let kids choose their own helmet. Kids are more likely to wear a helmet if they’ve picked it out themselves.
- Look for helmets that have a Snell or ANSI sticker attached to them, which indicates a helmet approved by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Wearing a CPSC-approved helmet cuts the risk of brain injury by 88%.
- Check to ensure that your child’s helmet fits properly. Your child’s helmet should fit snug around their head. Have your child shake their head back and forth quickly after putting it on. If it moves around a lot during this motion, it may not stay on in a crash. Tighten it up, and try again. Never buy your child a helmet they can “grow into.”
- When having your child try on helmets, pay attention to pinch points or areas where it might rub the skin that could aggravate your child and make it uncomfortable to wear. In this regard, you want to go for comfort over looks. There are many ways to decorate a helmet to your child’s liking later, but if it isn’t comfortable, your child won’t want to wear it.
- Most of all, get your child a helmet they will be proud to wear and show off to their friends (which encourages helmet use among them, too). Make your helmets a show-off item among your family. They sell many character helmets for younger children. As your kids get older, you can consider getting flames, dragons, or other designs airbrushed on. (Some tattoo shops will do this, and you can also search the Internet for local airbrush artists or ask about such services in bike shops.) Make their helmet something they take pride in wearing.
Getting kids to wear their helmet
- Be sure to wear a helmet yourself. A February 2009 Consumer Reports survey found that only 30% of people wear a helmet when riding a bicycle, while 11% do so occasionally, and 5.8% never wear a helmet. Kids really do emulate your behavior, and you want to show them that you value your own safety and take the threat seriously.
- Point out all the pro-athletes who wear helmets in their sport. Football players, baseball batters, bike racers, skateboard pro’s, even race car drivers – all the professionals at their sport wear a helmet.
Safety Helmet Resources for Kids