No matter what your age or level of experience, whenever you bike, inline skate, ski or engage in other activity where your head is vulnerable to injury, you should wear a helmet. Children under age 12 should also wear helmets when they sled. You need a helmet on every trip, no matter how short. Many accidents happen near home.
Why wear a helmet?
Cuts, bruises and even broken bones will heal, but damage to your brain can last a lifetime. Even a low-speed fall can change your life forever: In an instant your head can smack the street, sidewalk, curb, a car, tree or anything else around you. Why be vulnerable to brain damage?
How do helmets protect you?
When you fall or crash, your helmet absorbs much of the force of impact that would otherwise hurt your head. Thick plastic foam (firm polystyrene) inside the hard outer shell of your helmet crushes to cushion the blow. The helmet takes the hit instead of your head. (Note: Replace your helmet after a crash.)
Each year, bike-related crashes kill about 900 people and injure 567,000 others. Although more people than ever are using bike helmets, only half of the more than 80 million bike riders wear them all the time; about 43 percent never use helmets. Wearing a bike helmet reduces your risk of serious head and brain injury by 85 percent.
Choosing a bike helmet
Bicycle shops and discount department stores offer many models of helmets, priced around $20 and up. Choose one that meets the standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) or the Snell Memorial Foundation. Take some time trying on helmets and choose one with the right size and fit. Key factors:
- The helmet is snug: It does not slide from side-to-side or front-to-back.
- The helmet is level: It is square on top of your head, covering the top of the forehead. It does not tilt in any direction.
- The helmet is stable: The chinstrap keeps the helmet from rocking in any direction. (Note: Replace the chinstrap if any part of the buckle breaks. Otherwise your helmet may fly off in an accident.)
- Your helmet should be smooth and round. Choose one that motorists will see. Many helmets are ventilated, lightweight and fashionable in color.
Children and helmets
Young children are particularly vulnerable to head injuries. They have proportionally larger heads and higher centers of gravity, and their coordination is not fully developed. It is more difficult for children to avoid obstacles when biking, sledding, inline skating, skiing or doing other activities. Children aged 5-14 have the highest injury rate of all bicycle riders and bike accidents are a leading cause of death for children. Tips to help children understand the importance of wearing helmets:
- Teach by example: Always use your helmet when playing sports with potential for collision.
- Buy a helmet that fits your child now, not one to “grow into.”
- Be aware that your child is more likely to wear a helmet if he or she likes the way it looks.
More children than adults wear bike helmets. Bike helmets save lives and prevent injuries, but in a few cases they are not appropriate:
- Children should not wear helmets when they climb trees or playground equipment. A helmet may get stuck on a tree or piece of equipment and strangle a child.
- Because a baby’s neck muscles may not be strong enough to support a helmet, do not ride a bike at all with a child under the age of one.
- Remember, head injuries occur with skiing and when they occur, they can be devastating. Ski helmets are now commercially available. At the very least, bike helmets can be used.