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The Informed Parent

Bicycle Helmets

by Peter W. Welty, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Aug. 15, 2005

The joys of bicycle riding today seem to be encumbered by the pressure from parents who insist that youngsters wear a helmet. Often I am asked if this protection is really that important.

The answer is YES. But, unfortunately, only about 20% of children presently wear bike helmets.

Proper use of the helmet has been shown to reduce the risk of head injury from a bicycle crash by 85%.

Kids say they don't like wearing a helmet because of the uncomfortable design, the peer pressure against wearing them, and the feeling that they are unnecessary. As for parents, the reason most often given for not insisting on a helmet is an unawareness of its importance.

Bicycle helmet ownership is more common in families who wear car seat belts, and who are concerned about the possibility of injury resulting from a biking accident. Also, families who had another child in a biking accident or knew someone who had been in a serious bicycle accident are more likely to provide a helmet for their child.

When shopping for a bicycle helmet for your child, try to include him in the decision-making process. Those made of a hard shell and a polystyrene liner provide the best protection. They are subjected to the same safety testing that football and motorcycle helmets receive, and should meet the minimal safety standards of the American National Standards Institute. (ANSI) A higher rating is the SNELL approval, which meets more rigorous standards. Check with your local bike shop for more information.

Perhaps your son's school could develop a bicycle helmet awareness program, where the issues we described above could be addressed and reinforced to your son and his peers.

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