Bicycle riding is on the rise, and so are bike-related injuries. In 1988, there were almost 88 million cyclists in the United States. Unfortunately, this increase in bicycle riding has been accompanied by a large number of deaths and injuries. In 1988, 910 bicyclists (of all ages) were killed. Forty percent of all bike deaths involve children 14 and under. An estimated 514,738 bicyclists were killed or injured in bike-related incidents in 1989. Four times more children are killed or injured on bikes than on skateboards, roller skates, big wheels and scooters combined.
Bike helmets have been shown to reduce the risk of head injury by 85 percent and the risk of brain injury by almost 90 percent (Thompson).
People should use only helmets which meet bicycle helmet safety standards of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or the Snell Memorial Foundation. All helmets meeting these standards have labels on the outside or inside stating that they meet one or both of them.
Beware! The standards are not mandatory. Not all helmets available in shops or purchased in past years meet either standards. Some are filled with squishy, soft padding which do not provide good crash protection. Don't buy or use a helmet unless it has a label stating that it meets the "ANSI" or "Snell" standard.
Each type of helmet is designed for protection in specific conditions and may not protect in bike crashes or falls. It is not advisable to wear the incorrect type of helmet for any of those uses. Bike helmets are very protective in headfirst falls at fairly high speed, as well as being light and well ventilated for comfort and acceptability.
Helmets meeting the safety standards are available at bicycle shops and at some discount department and toy stores in adult and children's sizes and styles.
The essential part of the helmet for impact protection is a thick layer of firm Styrofoam called polystyrene, that crushes on impact. CI "Hard Shell" helmets also have a hard outer shell of plastic or fiberglass that provides a shield against penetration of sharp objects and holds the polystyrene together if it cracks in a fall or crash. The "soft shell" helmets have no hard outer shell but are made of an extra-thick layer of polystyrene covered with a cloth cover or a surface coating. The cloth cover is an essential part of many soft shell helmets. If the helmet comes with a cover, the cover must always be worn to hold the helmet together if the polystyrene cracks on impact. While there is no consensus on the relative safety of the two types, models of both types have passed the ANSI and/or Snell tests. The soft shell helmets are lighter than the hard shell versions.
Yes. Many small helmets are of the soft shell variety. They are light, minimizing the weight for small children whose necks may not be strong enough to hold up a hard shell helmet comfortably. These usually have a tough outer surface coating instead of a cloth cover. Helmets (and bike travel) are not suitable for babies under age one, whose neck structure is very weak; and the use of bike carriers for toddlers is not recommended.
Any helmet that has been used in a serious crash in which the polystyrene liner has cracked or been crushed should be retired with gratitude. It has served its purpose and will not provide adequate protection in another crash. If you are uncertain whether the helmet is still usable, return it to a bike shop or the manufacturer for examination.
A helmet should be worn squarely on top of the head, covering the top of the forehead. If it is tipped back, it will not protect the forehead. The helmet fits well if it doesn't move around on the head or slide down over the wearers' eyes when pushed and pulled. The chin strap should be adjusted to fit snugly.
Unlike a pair of shoes, a toddler or child helmet should fit for at least several years or even more. Most models have removable fitting-pads that can be replaced with thinner ones as the child's head grows.
To prevent head injuries, children must wear helmets whenever they ride on bicycles. Helmets providing good protection are labeled to show they meet either the ANSI or Sell standard. Helmets are available from bicycle shops and some discount and department stores. Helmets are sized to fit most children over age one. Babies do not have neck muscles strong enough to hold up a helmet.
The risk of head injury is highest to elementary and junior-high school age riders. Yet youngsters will learn the helmet habit if they begin wearing helmets when they first start riding on bicycles or even tricycles. Parents should also wear helmets, both to protect themselves and to show their children that helmets are important for everyone.
The National SAFE KIDS Campaign does not encourage parents to carry babies and toddlers on their bicycles, due to increased hazard to the children. Not only does the presence of the child make the bicycle top-heavy and hard to maneuver, but the child is very vulnerable to injury if the bicycle falls. A child should never be carried on the parent's back or chest, because he or she could be crushed by the parent's body in a bike crash. If parents decide to carry their children on their bicycles, please exercise great caution.
A child should not be placed in a bicycle seat until about one year of age, when he or she is capable of sitting upright unsupported, with neck muscle strong enough to hold a toddler-sized helmet comfortably for an extended period.
Children in bike carriers must wear toddler-sized helmets that meet either the ANSI or Snell standard. To prevent injuries that occur when feet get tangled in the spokes of the wheel, the child's bicycle seat must have foot guards that keep the feet away from the wheel.
The child should never be transported on the front handlebars. The seat must fit onto the bicycle securely and have a strong safety belt to hold the child in place. A high back and shoulder straps provide extra support and comfort for children.
These are low and stable, and are built to remain upright if the bicycle falls. They should be well-marked with reflectors and flags. Any child riding in a trailer also needs a helmet and should be strapped in.