Source: UPMC Hamot Shock Trauma
Does my child really need a bicycle helmet?
The simple answer is yes. Laws now require helmets in many areas. That is because medical research shows that a bicycle helmet can prevent 85% of cyclists’ head injuries. More than 600 bicycle riders are killed in the U.S. every year, almost all in collisions with cars, and 75% of them die of head injuries. Many thousands more suffer less severe but still debilitating injuries that are far worse than the physical pain of scraped skin or even broken bones. Your child can suffer permanent personality changes and learning disabilities from a brain injury, and both of you will be aware of what they have lost. Common long-term effects include concentration difficulties, aggressiveness, headaches and balance problems. Imagine your anguish if this happens to your child.
What will it cost?
Helmets sell in bike shops or by mail order from $20 up, or in discount stores for $10 or even less. A good shop helps with fitting, and fit is important for safety. A discount helmet can be equally protective if you take the time to fit it carefully on your child. Helmets are cheap for their benefit; so don’t wait for a sale.
Do I need to buy a new helmet every year?
No. Heads grow less than legs and feet. Many child helmets come with two or even three sets of foam fitting pads. You can start with thick pads and use the thinner pads as your child’s head grows. The fitting pads do not affect the impact protection of the helmet, which is provided by the firmer crushable polystyrene foam (picnic cooler foam).
Will my child actually use a bicycle helmet?
Yes, if other children wear one, their parents use one, the teacher at school has told them how much good helmets do, and the child has picked out the one they really want. No, if the helmet makes your child feel like a geek, nobody else uses one and it does not fit well. Perhaps yes if you have the will to enforce the rule. Most situations fall somewhere in between, and you know your child best. Seventh grade seems to be the most resisting age for helmets, when the feeling of invincibility is strong and the rage for fashion is undeniable. The key motivator of helmet use for kids is fashion, not safety. Try to make use of that.
Does a toddler need a bicycle helmet?
A child of any age needs head protection when riding, but a toddler’s neck may not support the weight of a helmet. For this and other reasons, nobody in the injury prevention community recommends riding with a child under one year old. If in doubt, take child and helmet to a pediatrician for advice. Child helmets need ventilation in hot weather, since the foam holds heat in. Toddler heads vary in shape, so pay careful attention to fit. The helmet should sit level on the child’s head, and fit securely with the strap fastened.
When should I replace my child’s bicycle helmet?
Replace any helmet when your child crashes in it. Impact crushes some of the foam. The helmet is less protective although the damage may not be readily visible. Helmets soften impact, so the child may not even be aware that their head hit until you examine the helmet for damage. Replace the buckle if it cracks or if any piece of it breaks off. Nobody prompts you to replace your child’s helmet, so give it some thought.
Can my child use a bicycle helmet for other sports?
The ASTM standards for biking and inline skating are identical, so a bike helmet is fine for normal inline skating. There is no standard for tricycle or scooter helmets, but bicycle helmets should work well for them. Aggressive extreme trick skating and skateboard helmets have a different ASTM standard, for multiple hits but lesser impacts. Most bike helmets are not made for that, although a few of them are. Skate helmets may not meet bike helmet requirements unless they have a CPSC bike standard sticker inside. Helmets for equestrian sports also have a unique design to resist a hoof.
Warning: No Helmets on Playgrounds!
In 1999 the first US death involving a bike helmet catching on playground equipment occurred. There have been other near misses. Be sure to teach your children to remove their helmets before using playground equipment or climbing trees!