Bicycling For Kids: Selecting The Right Child Bicycle Helmet

Bike helmets are vital to children's safety when cycling, but it's important to choose the right helmet to meet your child's needs.

Each year, thousands of children are injured in bicycle accidents. Head injuries are by far the most common type of injury, particularly when a bicycle and a car collide. People who suffer from head injuries, even relatively minor ones, often struggle with personality changes, balance problems, learning delays, emotional disturbances, and headaches for years after the injury. For far too many patients, these changes add up to permanent disabilities. Medical research estimates that nearly 85% of related head injuries can be minimized or avoided with one simple adjustment: every rider should wear a properly-fitted bicycle helmet.

Choosing the correct bicycle helmet for your child is perhaps just as important as making sure your youngster wears one when riding. There are many, many choices on the market, particularly in the United States. It can be difficult to wade through all of the possibilities to find just the right helmet for your child, but it is important that parents take the time to do just that. First, make sure the helmet meets federal guidelines and safety standards. Secondly, it's important to choose a helmet that can be made to fit properly. Finally, the array of colors and styles available will help you to choose a helmet that your child is likely to wear more willingly.

The bicycle helmet that you choose for your child should meet recognized safety standards. This assurance helps you to know that the helmet has been manufactured properly, tested for hardness and cushioning, and so forth. In the United States, bike helmets must meet the standards of the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. Look for approval stickers from this group on the helmets that you consider. If you are shopping outside of the United States, check for approval stickers from ASTM (the American Society for Testing and Materials), CEN (a European agency), or AUS (an Australian agency). Bike helmets are designed with a plastic outer shell that will slide easily over pavement to protect the neck and a layer of stiff foam to protect the head from impact. Helmets have sturdy straps to ensure that they stay on the cyclist's head if there is a crash. The standards ensure that a helmet will withstand specific levels of impact without allowing injury to the person.

There are three steps to fitting a bicycle helmet properly. The first is to choose a helmet that suits your child's head size. Helmets are often sized according to age ranges, and so you can look for the correct age range on the label. If your child's head is abnormally large or small, you may need to check several brands in order to find the right one. Use the smallest size helmet that will fit over your child's head.

Parents of very young children are often surprised that helmets for infants are not readily available. This is because doctors and safety experts agree that children under the age of at least one year do not have the neck strength to hold up their heads with the added weight of the helmet. It is not recommended to take a very young child cycling in a bike seat or in a side car or trailer because the ride will jostle and bounce the child's head with unacceptable force, possibly causing injuries similar to Shaken Baby Syndrome. In addition, rocks, mud and other debris can fly up and hit your child in the face, and your bike tires can throw up dust and grit that can get into the baby's eyes. If you have questions about whether your child is ready to enjoy a cycling trip, please ask your health care provider.

The second step to fitting a bicycle helmet correctly is to fine-tune the fit by using the removable pads. Most helmets come with an assortment of pads in various thicknesses that are used to adjust the fit of the helmet. Generally, these can be changed as the child grows to extend the helmet's usefulness. The pads do not provide added protection; they are solely to help with proper fit and comfort. The pads should help the helmet fit snuggly on top of the child's head. It should be level, sitting squarely on the top of the head. Be sure that it cannot tip forward or backward. A properly fitted helmet has two finger-widths of space between the bottom edge of the front of the helmet and the child's eyebrows or glasses.

The third step to fitting a bicycle helmet properly is to adjust the straps. The side straps form a "V" directly under the ears, then a connected chin strap buckles beneath the chin. This strap should be adjusted so that the buckle fastens with no slack when the mouth is opened. The helmet should not rock from side to side or sit on the back of the head. Be wary of allowing your child to wear braids, beads, pony tails, hats or other head gear beneath the helmet, since any of these will compromise the helmet's fit and effectiveness, or possibly even render it useless.

The final consideration when choosing a bicycle helmet is style. Helmets come in a wide variety of shapes and colors. Many children have definite ideas about what they consider to be "cool," but there are some considerations that parents should note. Helmets should be smooth and round. Models with tails or fins actually can cause problems such as the helmet slipping from place on impact. Ventilation is important to keep the wearer cool and comfortable. The front vents control most of the airflow, but you'll need to find a balance between venting and safety, as larger vents leave portions of the head unprotected. Some helmet models incorporate sweat control systems, such as sweat bands, in the front to help riders be more comfortable. Color can be a factor in your decision if it will help your child wear the helmet more willingly. Bright colors and white helmets are most visible in traffic, though.

The best bicycle helmet in the world won't protect your child, though, if it is not worn and worn properly. Insist that your child wear the helmet at all times when cycling. Check the adjustment of your child's helmet regularly, since children grow and straps can slip. Replace the helmet if there has been any impact on it, since damage may not be visible to the naked eye. Set a good example by wearing a helmet yourself. Studies show that people who ride without helmets are seven times more likely to suffer head injuries and eight times more likely to have brain damage from accidents. You wouldn't allow your child to ride in the car without a seatbelt or to play in the household cleaners, so don't allow the risk of riding unprotected, either. It's the law in many places, and its common sense everywhere. Protect your brain. Wear a helmet when cycling.

© High Speed Ventures 2011