Bicycle Safety: Getting Kids to Wear Helmets

Parents, Friends Set Examples, Study Shows

From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 3, 2005 -- If you want your kids to wear bicycle helmets while biking, you ought to strap on your own helmet and ride with them.

While you're at it, make sure your kids' bike buddies are also wearing helmets, and encourage kids to have a positive attitude about it.

So says a new Canadian study in Pediatrics.

When kids ride bikes, they're much more likely to wear bicycle helmets if they're with helmeted parents or friends, report Patricia Parkin, MD, and colleagues.

Parkin works in the pediatric medicine division of Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children.

Bicycle Helmets Can Save Lives

Head injuries are the No. 1 cause of death in bicycle accidents. Bicycle helmets have been shown to reduce the risk of brain and head injury in bike accidents by 65% to 88%, the researchers note.

Most bike accidents aren't fatal. But every year, about seven out of 1,000 U.S. kids up to age 14 have a bike-related accident. There are about 51 hospital admissions and more than 1,400 emergency room visits for every bicycle-related death, write the researchers.

Still, a lot of people don't wear bike helmets. Just ask Parkin's team.

For nine years, trained observers watched kids aged 5 to 14 biking in Toronto's school yards, parks, and roads. The observers jotted down whether the kids were wearing helmets and if they were biking alone.

Half of the kids were biking on their own. Thirty-six percent were with at least one other child. The rest were with one or more adult.

Biggest Influence: Parental Example

When it came to wearing bike helmets, kids tended to follow adults' lead.

Almost all of the kids -- 95% -- wore helmets when riding with a helmeted adult. But only 41% of the kids wore helmets when riding with a nonhelmeted grown-up.

Peer pressure also mattered, but adults were more influential. Consider this:

  • More than 3 out of 4 kids wore bicycle helmets when they rode with other helmeted kids.
  • Only about a third of kids wore helmets when riding on their own.
  • Even fewer kids (10%) wore helmets when riding with nonhelmeted kids.

Parents can serve as positive role models, and efforts should be made to improve kids' attitudes about wearing bike helmets, the researchers write.

In Denial?

Parents tend to overestimate their kids' use of bike helmets, state Parkin and colleagues, citing past studies.

These tips are based on their report:

  • Make sure kids have bike helmets (if you don't have one, you can't wear it).
  • Set rules requiring helmets to be worn when bicycling.
  • Buy your own bike helmet, and use it every time you ride.
  • Know that a biking child is more likely to wear a helmet if his or her friends do, too.
  • Encourage kids to have a good attitude about wearing helmets while biking.

Choosing a Helmet

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) offers this advice on choosing a bike helmet:

  • Select a helmet that fits snugly and sits flat on the head.
  • For children, use the extra padding that comes with the helmet to ensure proper fit.
  • The extra padding can be removed from the helmet as the child's head grows.

The CPSC and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommend that bicyclists wear helmets that comply with CPSC standards.

More Bike Safety Tips

Besides wearing a helmet every time you ride, the CPSC's bike safety tips include:

  • Make sure your bike is ready to ride and properly adjusted.
  • Make sure your wheels are securely fastened.
  • Always check brakes before riding.
  • Make yourself visible (see and be seen).
  • Always be aware of traffic around you.
  • Avoid biking at night.
  • Stay alert; watch for obstacles in your path.
  • Go with the flow of traffic.
  • Learn the rules of the road and obey traffic laws.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Khambalia, A. Pediatrics, October 2005; vol 116: pp 939-942. Consumer Product Safety Commission, "Ten Smart Routes to Bicycle Safety."
© 2005 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info