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Helmet Safety


Each of us at some point in our lives has felt the wind hit our face and whizz past our ears. Children may feel this while riding a bicycle, skating, or skiing. This feeling can be exciting.  It may seem tempting to do these sports without a helmet to enjoy this feeling.  In truth, to keep having fun we need to be safe and, more importantly, our brains need to be safe.
Here are the data, from the US Department of Transportation:

In 2011, 677 cyclists were killed and 48,000 cyclists reported injuries in crashes involving motor vehicles.

  • 16% (an estimated 8,000) of those injured were 14 years old or younger.
  • 80% of accidents occur in daylight.
  • Nearly 75% of all fatal bicycle crashes involve head injuries.
  • No more than 17% of those fatally injured were wearing helmets.
  • In 2009, it was estimated that 9 in 10 bicyclists killed were not wearing helmets.
  • Only 20-25% of all bicyclists wear bicycle helmets.
  • Universal bicycle helmet use by children ages 4 to 15 would prevent 39,000 to 45,000 head injuries each year.
  • This would also prevent 18,000 to 55,000 scalp and face injuries each year.
  • Bicycle helmets are 85-88 percent effective in helping with head and brain injuries.
  • Using a helmet is the single most effective way to reduce head injuries and deaths.

Recommended Helmet Use

  • Biking
  • Skiing
  • Snowboarding
  • Skating
  • Any wheeled sport  
  • Sport with expected speed faster than jogging

Which Helmet Should You Buy?

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Snell Memorial Foundation rate the best helmets.

Snell B-95 rated helmets provide more protection.

Choosing a Helmet

  1. Measure your child’s head for size.   Have your child try on several helmets in his size until one feels right.   With the new helmet on your child’s head, make sure that he can still see and hear clearly.   Adjust the sizing pads or fit ring until the helmet is comfortably snug. 
  2. The helmet should sit level on your child’s head and low on the forehead—one or two finger-widths above the eyebrow.
  3. Adjust the slider on the side straps to form a “V” shape around the ears.  Lock the slider if possible.
  4. Buckle the chinstrap.  Tighten the strap until it is snug, so that no more than one or two fingers fit under the strap.
  5. Does the helmet fit right?  Have your child open his mouth wide like a big yawn.   The helmet should pull down on his head.
 Children are more likely to use safe habits if their parents model the good behavior.  Be sure to wear your helmet when biking with your children.  Make sure they understand that helmets aren’t uncool.  They can save lives. There are many creative ways to decorate your child’s helmet to make it more personal, more fun, and more likely to be worn.

More Information

Q:  Why should my child wear a helmet?

The thought behind protecting your child with a helmet is that some tumbles or collisions can result in head injury.  Depending on the energy of the impact, head injury can sometimes be as simple as a scrape or a cut but sometimes it can mean severe brain damage or death.
In a review of the scientific literature, existing studies support a 66-88% reduction of risk of a serious brain injury if in a crash and wearing a helmet.  About three quarters of deaths from biking injuries were from head trauma.  If the injury evidence is not compelling enough, in many states, it is the law.

Q:  Are helmets just for biking?

No – helmets are meant to protect the head when participating in any sport where there is a chance of a fall onto the head, a collision, or when speeds may exceed a fast jog, such as:
  • Biking
  • Skating (roller, inline or ice)
  • Skateboarding
  • Scooter
  • Snowmobiling
  • Skiing
  • Sledding
  • Horseback riding

Q:  How do I pick the right helmet?

First – it’s important to get the appropriate helmet for your sport.
The Consumer Protection Safety Commission has specific guidelines for helmets that you can check on their website.

To make sure the helmet you pick will fit your child:
  • bring her to the store with you
  • measure her head for size
  • try on several helmets of the appropriate size to find one that feels right
  • adjust the fit with the pads or sizing ring
  • adjust the side straps with the helmet level on the head, two finger widths above the eyebrow
  • buckle and adjust the chin strap so that a wide open mouth pulls the helmet tight

Q:  Is it OK for my child to continue to wear his helmet after a crash?

Helmets may be single or multiple impact helmets.  If the helmet is a single impact helmet, it should be replaced.  In the case of a multiple impact helmet, examine the helmet to see if any of the materials was compromised in the crash, like a cracked shell, dent in the shell or liner, or broken strap.  If in doubt, you should check with the manufacturer.