With the warm weather coming in fits and starts but soon here to stay, bicycles are being pulled out of basements and garages across towns, and soon the streets and sidewalks will be strewn with tikes on bikes. With all of the joy and glee our small cyclists exude as they pedal away, we often forget about the serious risk associated with bicycles.
The burden of bicycle related injuries is considerable. According to 2008 annual data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 276,020 children suffered bicycle-related injuries. Those at highest risk of such injury are children between the ages of 5 and 14 years. Falls and collisions with a fixed or moving object are the most common causes of injuries. Of course, the most grave injuries and fatalities are caused by collisions with motor vehicles. Surprisingly, these usually occur within one mile of the bicyclist’s home.
In 2008, there were approximately 100 bicycle-associated deaths among US children less than 15 years of age. The foremost cause of death and long-term disability in bicycle crashes is traumatic brain injury. Emergency departments across the United States estimate that 140,000 children are treated each year for traumatic brain injuries while riding bicycles.
Unfortunately, there are many factors that parents cannot control when it comes to their child safely riding his or her bike. However, wearing a bicycle helmet is a vital first step to bicycle safety. Several studies have shown that bicycle helmets reduce the risk of head and brain injuries by 63% to 88% in bicyclists of all ages.
Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates provides bike helmets for children (patients and non-patients) for $10.00 each. Massachusetts requires any child 16 or under riding a bike or using inline skates, a scooter or a skateboard to wear a helmet. Visit any of Harvard Vanguard’s 14 pediatric offices to buy a helmet. To find the office nearest you, please go to our website.
HOW TO FIT A BICYCLE HELMET
Correct helmet fit and positioning is paramount to bicycle safety. It is thought that the majority of children and teens wear helmets incorrectly. Studies have revealed that children with poorly fitting helmets had nearly two times the risk of head injury in a crash compared to children who wore properly fitted helmets. Children who wore the helmet tipped up and backwards - as opposed to those with a correctly aligned helmet – had a 52% increase in the risk of head injury during a bicycle crash.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a properly fitting bicycle helmet should rest slightly above the eyebrows and not slide around on the head. A helmet should be worn so that it is level on the head, not tipped forwards or backwards. The straps of the helmet should form a “Y” that meets immediately under the child’s ear. The strap should be securely fastened, and you should not be able to move the helmet in any direction. Yet, the chinstrap should be snug enough to pull down on the helmet when the child opens the mouth wide. Alternatively, you can refer to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute website.
(Courtesy of www.cpsc.gov)
(Courtesy of www.cpsc.gov)
The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has established federal safety standards regarding bicycle helmets. All CPSC approved helmets have a CPSC sticker on the inside liner. Any other helmet should not be used for your child. Any helmet that has been in a significant crash should be discarded. (Significant crashes include those in which the helmet hits a hard surface or when secondary marks are left on the helmet shell after a collision.) Regardless, helmets older than five years should be replaced given the concern of potential wear and tear.
“RULES OF THE ROAD”
- Remember that when purchasing a helmet, look for a label or sticker that says the helmet meets the CPSC safety standard. All helmets made after 1999 must comply with the CPSC’s mandatory safety standards.
- Only use bicycle helmets for bicycling. Other sport helmets are designed for protection in specific conditions and may not offer enough protection in bike crashes or falls. However, some multisport helmets, if certified to meet the CPSC standard for bicycle helmets, are acceptable.
- Start the habit early, put your little ones on tricycles in helmets or when in a bicycle trailer. Helmets for babies under age 1 year do exist but are often the soft-shell variety rather than the hard-shell version. Typically, these are lighter which is more suitable given infants’ weaker neck structures.
- Talk to your children about why they need to wear a helmet.
- Be consistent. Your child needs to wear a helmet on every bike ride, no matter how short or how close to home.
- Since children learn best by observing you, put on your helmet too.
- For more information, refer to the American Acadmey of Pediatric’s family site
- Be safe and cycle away!