Each year, approximately 135 children die from bicycle-related injuries and more than 267,000 nonfatal bicycle injuries occur. Helmets can reduce the risk of severe brain injuries by 88 percent; however, only 15 to 25 percent of children 14 and under usually wear a bicycle helmet.
The most effective device available to reduce head injury and death from bicycle crashes is a helmet.
“A bike helmet is essential safety gear,” says Amy Schmidt, injury prevention coordinator at Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital, the region’s only Adult and Pediatric Level II Trauma Center. “A properly fitted bicycle helmet reduces the risk of head injury by as much as 85 percent,”
Sometimes children mistakenly believe that they don’t need to wear helmets when they’re riding near home. Unfortunately, about 53 percent of vehicle-related bike deaths to children happen on minor roads and residential streets. “A crash can happen anywhere, even in the driveway. A helmet should be worn each time you ride your bike,” says Schmidt.
You should use a helmet that meets U.S. Consumer Product Standards each time you ride – especially close to home, where most vehicle-related bike deaths happen to children.
Use these guidelines for a proper fit.
A helmet should sit on top of the head in a level position, and should not rock forward and backward or side to side. The helmet straps must always be buckled, but not too tightly. Safe Kids recommends the “Eyes, Ears and Mouth” test:
- Eyes: Position the helmet on your head. Look up and you should see the bottom rim of the helmet. The rim should be one to two finger-widths above the eyebrows.
- Ears: Make sure the straps of the helmet form a "V" under your ears when buckled. The strap should be snug but comfortable.
- Mouth: Open your mouth as wide as you can. Do you feel the helmet hug your head? If not, tighten the straps and make sure the buckle is flat against your skin.
Parents and caregivers are reminded to:
Make sure the bike is the right size for the child. There should be about one inch of clearance between the bike frame and the child’s groin when the child’s feet are flat on the ground. Also, make sure the bike is in good repair — reflectors are secure, brakes work properly, gears shift smoothly, and tires are tightly secured and properly inflated.
Remember, bike helmets are for biking. Kids should not wear bike helmets on the playground (where the straps can get caught on equipment and cause injury) or for activities that require specialized helmets (such as skiing or football).
Model and teach proper bicyclist behavior. Ride on the right side of the road, with traffic, not against it. Stay as far to the right as possible. Use appropriate hand signals and respect traffic signals, stopping at all stop signs and stop lights.
When in doubt, get help. The sales staff at any bicycle shop or outdoor recreation store should be able to provide expert advice on fitting and adjusting bikes and helmets.
The single most effective safety device available to reduce head injury and death from bicycle crashes is a helmet. For more information about bicycle safety, call Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital Injury Prevention Line at 715.387.9600 or visit www.safekids.org.