The Importance of Bike Helmets

The Importance of Bike Helmets

Summer happens to be one of my favorite seasons–not just because it means plenty of time for sun, swimming, and long-anticipated vacations with the family, but because it’s a time when families seem to enjoy healthier lifestyles. If you’re like many families, you’ve found yourself spending more time out and about, enjoying the great outdoors with your family and becoming more physically active. And when it comes to getting active in the summertime, more often than not, bicycles are involved.  

Summertime biking is popular because it is a fun physical activity that the whole family can enjoy together. However, it warrants a quick review of biking safety protocols for you and your children. At the top of this list is the bicycle helmet.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more children between the ages of 5 and 14 end up in hospital emergency rooms for injuries associated with bicycling than with any other sport. Bicycle helmets are inexpensive and extremely effective in preventing life-threatening head injuries. So what is there to discuss? As a parent, you may already know where I’m headed with this: the real challenge with bike helmets is not buying them, but getting children to actually wear them, and wear them correctly.

The following strategies will help you and your family cycle safely this summer and throughout the year.

  • Roll with it. As a pediatrician, I am often asked at what age children realistically need to wear a helmet. My answer has always been that children should start wearing helmets the day they start riding anything with wheels. Tricycles, scooters, rollerblades and skateboards–you name it–they need a helmet. Sure, most toddlers and preschoolers don’t generally pick up enough speed sitting six inches off the ground on a little plastic riding toy to do any real damage. But the real risk lies in failing to establish this extremely important habit early on. By ensuring right from the start that your child wears a helmet whenever riding anything with wheels, you can set in motion a firm (and non-negotiable) foundation for the future. After all, the wheeled things that older children ride only get faster and more dangerous.
  • Use your head. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, “Do as I say and not as I do” doesn’t work particularly well in any parenting context, and wearing a bike helmet is no exception. While I can certainly relate, as I’m not particularly fond of helmets myself, I recognize that I can’t get away with forgoing the helmet and still expect my children to accept it as an important lifelong habit. There’s really not much more to it than that. Recognize that you have the responsibility to lead by example….and commit to wearing your helmet, too!
  • Stay level-headed. While committing to the use of a helmet is a great start for both you and your children, simply putting a helmet on one’s head is not enough. When biking, you need to make sure the helmet you’re using is an actual bike helmet, because not just any helmet will do. Even when bike helmets are in place, all too often, I see well-intentioned adults and children alike biking with helmets perched precariously on their heads–loose and ineffectively positioned (usually pushed back and too high up on the forehead) to adequately offer protection. In short, helmets need to fit snuggly, with no side-to-side movement, and they need to be level and low on the forehead, no more than one or two finger-widths above the eyebrow.  

For a detailed description of the steps to properly fit a bicycle helmet, as well as information on helmet certification, you can go to the NHTSA website. You can also find a summary of what every parent should know about bicycle helmets on the American Academy of Pediatrics website.

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