Bike riding is a great way to get exercise and fresh air and share time as a family. But before you and the kids rush out and start pedaling, there’s an important factor that you need to consider—safety.
Bicycle helmet use should not be optional for anyone in your family, no matter where you are or how short the ride. In many states, it’s the law.
Here’s why: many bike accidents involve a head injury, so a crash could mean permanent brain damage or death for someone who doesn’t wear one while riding. In fact, each year in the United States, about half a million kids are seriously injured in bicycle-related accidents, and most of those injuries could have been avoided if a helmet was worn. Your brain is irreplaceable; buying and wearing a helmet is the best way to protect it.
“In a majority of bicyclist deaths, the most serious injuries are to the head, highlighting the importance of wearing a bicycle helmet,” said David Hasleton, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Riverton Hospital. “Helmet use has been estimated to reduce the odds of head injury by 50 percent, and the odds of head, face, or neck injury by 33 percent.”
Deaths among bicyclists younger than 20 have declined 88 percent since 1975, while deaths among bicyclists 20 and older have nearly tripled.
(Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Highway Loss Data, 2014)
The statistics show we’re doing better at getting children to wear helmets, but not as well at getting adults to wear them. To protect against brain injury, make sure you and your kids wear a correctly fitting helmet on every ride.
Here are some things to keep in mind when buying a helmet:
- Pick bright or fluorescent colors that are visible to drivers and other cyclists.
- Look for a well-ventilated helmet.
- Make sure the helmet has a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) or Snell sticker inside. These indicate the helmet meets standards set by the CPSC or the Snell Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit group that tests helmet safety.
- Make sure your child’s helmet fits correctly and can be adjusted.
You should be able to get help finding a well-fitting helmet and adjusting it properly at any bicycle store.
Once you have the right helmet, you need to wear it the right way so it will protect you. It should be worn level and cover your forehead. Don’t tip it back so your forehead is showing. The straps should always be fastened. If the straps are flying, it’s likely to fall off your head when you need it most. Make sure the straps are adjusted so they’re snug enough that you can’t pull or twist the helmet around on your head. Also, make sure kids don’t wear any other hat underneath their helmet.
Take care of your bike helmet and don’t throw it around. That could damage the helmet, and it won't protect you as well in an accident. If you do crash and put your helmet to the test, be sure to get a new one. They don't work as well after an accident.
A few bike helmets can be used as protection for other activities, but in general, they’re best suited to biking. Most helmets are made for one specific type of activity—for example, special helmets also are made for inline skating, baseball, and snowmobiling.
Kids should not wear any helmet when they’re on a playground or climbing a tree, since there is a risk of strangulation from the chin strap during these types of activities.
Many bike helmets today are lightweight and come in cool colors. If kids don’t love their helmets as they are, it’s easy to personalize them with stickers. Reflective stickers are a great choice because they look cool and make are more visible to drivers.