Child Health Advocacy and Safety

Bicycle Helmet Safety

girl wearing bike helmetA helmet could save your child’s life.
 
Wearing a helmet while bicycling, in-line skating and skateboarding can reduce the risk of serious brain injury by more than 85 percent.
 
Three out of four bicycle-related deaths and permanently disabling injuries are caused by brain damage.
 
Other facts to consider:
  • 85 percent of bicyclists killed in 2003 reportedly weren’t wearing helmets
  • In 2003, about eight times as many bicycle deaths were males compared with females. At every age, more male than female bicyclists were killed. Bicycle deaths were highest among 12-year-old males.
  • 619 bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles in 2003
  • Bicycle deaths are most likely to occur in summer and fall between the hours of 6 and 9pm

What does a helmet do?

A bike helmet contains a dense liner made from stiff crushable foam, which crushes and absorbs most of the impact in a crash. The brain needs the protection of a helmet to cushion the blow that otherwise would hit the skull and brain in a crash. Broken bones and “road rash” can heal but a head injury can lead to death or disability.

Head Injuries

There are three types of head injuries:

  • Concussions happen when the brain gets “shaken up” and stops working for a while. A severe concussion can cause permanent damage.
  • Contusions are bruises caused when the brain hits the rough inside surface of the skull.
  • Hemorrhages happen in severe cases when the brain bleeds. This internal bleeding can easily lead to death or permanent brain damage.

In addition, the skull may be fractured. While a skull fracture might not be serious, pieces of bone may pierce the dura (the outer-most part of the brain) and damage the brain tissue. Even mild injuries can cause serious problems such as loss of memory, increased irritability, odd changes in personality and loss of motor skills like holding an object in your hand.

Make Helmet Wearing a Must

Most children don’t enjoy wearing a helmet, and unfortunately many parents don’t insist that they wear one every time they get on their bike, hop on their skateboard or strap on their rollerblades. Make sure your children understand the role a helmet plays in protecting their head, brain and possibly even their future.

New habits can be hard to establish. By starting the helmet habit with your children from the first time they climb on a tricycle, you can establish an automatic habit for your child.

Helmet Facts

  • Today’s bicycle helmets weigh between seven and 14 ounces - about as much as a jacket or sweater. They are ventilated to allow heat to escape from the head.
     
  • Bike helmets are inexpensive. You can purchase a helmet at a discount store for about $10. Bike stores offer helmets under $30 and offer the valuable service of properly fitting the helmet to the rider’s head.
     
  • Help your children learn to use the buckle. Helmet straps may be difficult for young fingers. Help your children practice until they can buckle and unbuckle easily.
     
  • Let your child pick out their helmet. A favorite color or adding stickers might be all it takes to get your child enthused.
     
  • Remind older children that all professionals wear helmets and protective gear. For them it’s not a matter of cool, just the rules of the game.
     
  • If your child doesn’t want to be seen in a helmet, remind them that helmets actually make it easier for motorists to see them. Large bruises, “road rash” and lacerations to the head and face are a lot more unattractive than today’s stylish helmets.
     
  • Insist that your child wear their helmet every time they bike, skate board or rollerblade.
     
  • Head injuries can happen anytime, anywhere. Firm rules are usually needed for safety practice.
     
  • Wear your own helmet. Children learn by example. Your head is important, too.

How to Fit a Helmet

Your helmet should fit straight on the top of the head, touching the head all the way around. The helmet should be level and stable enough to resist even violent shakes or hard blows and stay in place. The rim should cover the top of the forehead to protect your brain, with the strap snug but comfortable.

  • First, adjust the fit pads. Most helmets come with extra foam fitting pads to customize the fit. Fitting pads are not able to protect you in a crash; their only function is to make the helmet fit. Adjust the fit pads by using thicker pads on the side if your head is too narrow and there is space, or by adding pads in the back for shorter heads.

    Leaving gaps will help improve the air flow. Without being too tight, the pads should touch your head evenly all the way around. The helmet should sit level on the head, with the front just above the eyebrow, or if the rider wears glasses, just above the frame of the glasses.

     

  • Second, adjust the straps. Put the helmet on and fasten the buckle. A helmet must stay in place with its strap buckled. If it moves around on your head it could come off in a crash. Adjust the straps so the helmet stays in place when you pull it forward and side to side.

    The chin strap should be snug against the jaw so that when you open your mouth really wide you feel the helmet pull down a bit. When you look upward the front rim should be barely visible to your eye. The Y of the side straps should meet just below your ear.
     
    When you think your straps are right, shake your head around aggressively. Then put your palm under the front edge and push up and back. If you can move the helmet more than an inch or so from level, exposing your forehead, you need to tighten the strap in front of your ear. Now reach back and pull up on the back edge. If the helmet moves more than an inch, tighten the Y strap.

     

  • When you are done, the helmet should be level, feel solid on your head and be comfortable. You should be able to forget you are wearing it most of the time. If the helmet does not fit snugly or comfortably, keep adjusting the straps or select a different helmet. Check the strap often for tightness. It may get loose during use.

When should you replace a helmet?

It is important to replace a helmet after it has been worn in a crash. Even if damage is not visible, impact crushes the foam. Helmets soften impact, so you may not even be aware your head hit until you examine the helmet for damage. Replace the buckle if it cracks or any pieces break off.