Published: Aug. 12, 2009
Updated: July 16, 2010
By Emily Mitchell
A bicycle helmet is the only thing that’s between your head and the pavement if you fall off your bike.
A bike helmet absorbs the impact of a fall and prevents injuries to your head and neck that include skull fractures, spinal injuries, and traumatic brain injuries. These injuries can lead to paralysis, developmental delays, and even death.
Of the 700 bicycle-related deaths that happen each year, nearly 75 percent of them are due to head injuries. Almost all of these head injuries could have been avoided if the rider had been wearing a helmet.
Kimberly Bailey, Injury Prevention Coordinator for Duke University Hospital, shares tips about the importance of wearing a helmet and what to consider when selecting a helmet.
While knowing why to wear a helmet is important, knowing how to wear one is the crucial step in having a safe ride.
When selecting a helmet, consider the following characteristics:
Your helmet likely won't fit perfectly when you first put it on, but a few, small adjustments should make it work.
Most helmets come with pieces of foam that help you tailor the helmet to your head’s shape and size. Add the pads to the side of the interior of the helmet if you have a narrow head. If your head is rounder or shorter, add the pads to the back of the helmet to get a secure fit.
After the foam is in place, focus on your straps. The three elements to consider when adjusting the helmet’s straps are:
When you have finished adjusting the pads and straps, your helmet should be level, feel snug, and fit comfortably. If you can’t get it to fit snugly, consider asking for help at a bike shop or finding a new helmet altogether. Never wear a helmet that doesn’t fit properly.
If you’ve been in a bike wreck, you need to replace your helmet. The foam in the helmet compresses upon impact and can’t protect you as well in the case of a future accident.
If you are accident-free, congratulations! But you may still need to replace your helmet after five years due to general wear and tear. Check the helmet's information pamphlet for the manufacturer's recommendation.
A child should never ride a bike without wearing a bicycle helmet. Crashes and falls can cause more debilitating injuries in children than in adults.
Establish safe bicycle behavior while children are very young by telling them about the importance of protecting their heads, modeling the behavior yourself, and praising and rewarding them when they do wear their helmets.
For young toddlers, consult with a pediatrician before letting the toddler wear a helmet. The weight of the helmet may be too heavy for their developing necks and heads to handle.
Make sure your child removes his helmet before playing on the playground or while climbing in trees -- straps can get caught on equipment or branches and cause injury.
Remember not all helmets are the same -- each type of helmet is made to protect your head from the impacts common to certain activities or sports. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission a bike helmet is also compliant with recreational roller or inline skating and riding a nonpowered scooter.
For a listing of helmets that are suitable for other activities or sports, please visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website at www.cpsc.gov.