Helmets are a must for all cyclists

By wearing a helmet, parents can show children by example that they mean what they say about bicycle safety
At first it seems like a perfect spring picture of a family working together on fitness. Mom and Dad are on their bikes. Their grade-school kid is pedaling her own bike and wearing a helmet as Dad tows the toddler in a bike trailer.

What's wrong with this picture? Only the girl has head protection.

It's baffling that some parents think they don't need to wear a bike helmet when there's every good reason to do so.

"Generally speaking, the adults will buy a helmet more readily for the child than they do for themselves, said Rick Dana, manager at Specialized bike store in Tustin, Calif. "Almost 95 percent of the time, parents recognize that the child needs a helmet for safety. It's the law for children under 18 in California."

That includes toddlers who are in bike trailers.

The law does not require an adult 18 years and older to wear a helmet, but safety is the most important consideration, Dana said. And, by wearing a helmet, parents are showing by example that they mean what they say about the message of safety.

Cost is not an issue, considering that some adult helmets are available for $20, sometimes less. "Compare that to $3,000 for an emergency-room visit," Dana said.

Sobering statistics

Consider sobering statistics from the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute:

  • About 540,000 bicyclists visit emergency rooms with injuries every year. Of those, about 67,000 have head injuries.
  • One in eight of the cyclists with reported injuries has a brain injury.
  • From 45 percent to 88 percent of those brain injuries could have been prevented by a helmet.
  • About 800 bicyclists die in the U.S every year.
  • Two-thirds of the deaths are from traumatic brain injury.
  • A helmet is useless if it doesn't fit properly or isn't worn correctly. I've seen some kids and adults who wear a helmet but don't fasten the straps. What's the point of wearing them, then?

    Helmet-buying tips

    Some tips for the entire family when buying helmets:

    Don't guess your kid's head size, Dana said. Let the kid try on the helmet to get the right fit. Don't choose a helmet that's loose with the intention of letting the child's head "grow into it." Some kids have bigger head sizes than those designated for their age, so in those cases, that may mean that kids have to wear an adult helmet, Dana said.

    By the way, your kids are more likely to wear the helmet if you let them participate in choosing the style and color.

    Chin straps should flank each ear, with a buckle underneath. The straps fastened with a third buckle under the chin should fit snugly. Once strapped on, the helmet should not slide front to back or side to side.

    Go to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, www.cpsc.gov, to check that the helmet you're considering has not been recalled.

    And make sure to remind your kids to take off the helmet when they're playing in a playground or climbing trees. The CPSC warns that the straps of the helmets can be trapped in equipment, leading to strangulation.

    Lisa Liddane is a health and fitness writer for The Orange County Register and an American Council on Exercise-certified group fitness instructor. Write to her at the Register, P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, Calif. 92711 or send e-mail to lliddane@cregister.com.

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