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When Beverly Losman was a kid, very few people she knew wore bicycle helmets. So when her best friend was struck by a car while riding his bike, it was fortunate he was among the few who did -- his helmet saved his life. Today, as director of Safe Kids Georgia, Losman is still passing on what she learned from her friend’s accident. “Bicycle helmets are simple, cheap, and effective life savers,” she says.

Safety Equipment Prevents Injuries, Saves Lives

From bicycling to boxing, skateboarding to soccer, each sport requires its own safety equipment to prevent sports injuries. Depending on the sport, this could mean special shoes that grip the ground; pads to protect wrists, shins, and knees; or mouth guards to shield the tongue and teeth. For bicycling, as well as many other sports, the most common piece of sports safety gear is a helmet.  It may also be the most important. Of those killed in cycling accidents in 2008, for example, 91% were not wearing helmets.

The Right Helmet for Your Sport

When choosing a helmet, it's important to select an activity-appropriate helmet, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). For example, skateboard helmets are designed to absorb high-speed impact and cover more of the head than bicycle helmets. Bicycle helmets, however, have greater ventilation to make them more comfortable for long rides.

Helmets for sports such as football are designed to absorb multiple impacts, but bike helmets should be replaced if they are cracked, damaged, or involved in an accident.

There are a few helmets that may be worn for similar activities. Multi-sport helmets may be worn while biking, inline skating, and riding non-motorized scooters, and CPSC-compliant bicycle helmets are safe for use while inline skating and riding a scooter.

How to Choose a Bicycle Helmet

When selecting a bicycle helmet for your child, fit and visibility are key considerations; cost doesn't have to be. In 2009, the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute compared bicycle helmets ranging in price from under $20 to more than $150. They found that the inexpensive helmets provided just as much protection as the expensive models.

Since most helmets sold in the United States meet an industry standard, find a helmet your child likes. Let the staff at the store help you fit it. “The most important thing about a helmet is proper fit,” says Losman. Use these tips to find a safe, effective helmet:

  • Be sure the helmet fits. It should gently touch the head all the way around but should not be too tight, and it should not move more than 1 inch in any direction.
  • Be sure the helmet stays on. Tighten the straps, then tug. The helmet should not pull off.
  • Look for a CPSC sticker on the helmet. The CPSC sticker ensures the helmet meets U.S. helmet safety standards.
  • Choose a bright or reflective color. Bright colors, patterns, or reflective coloring make it easier to see your child in low light or rain.
  • Choose a practical style. Avoid helmets that have sharp edges, visors that may break off, or straps that are too thin.