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Start Early with Bike Helmets

We know wearing a bike helmet is important. In fact, wearing a helmet can reduce the risk of head injury by 85%, says Jennifer McCue, injury prevention coordinator at the A. I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, DE.

So how can we get kids to use their heads and wear their helmets?

 Don’t wait for the training wheel stage to have your child wear a helmet. “It’s very important to start early, as soon as they’re on tricycles,” says McCue. Just like any other habit, the younger it begins, the more likely it will stick.

Some parents offer rewards if their child wears a helmet. Others restrict bike riding if their kids don’t.

But the most effective thing a parent can do is to wear a bike helmet yourself if you ride a bike, says McCue. Kids observe everything we do as parents, so be a role model.

Another tip: Let kids pick their own helmets, so it feels like it’s their decision, not just another rule they have to follow.

You can also encourage your child’s friends to wear helmets as well, which can lead to positive peer pressure within their group.

It's The Law

Children riding bikes are required to wear helmets:
• In Delaware, under age 16
• In New Jersey, under age 17
• In Pennsylvania, under age 12

Bike Helmet Safety

 You need to make sure that your helmet is CPSA (Consumer Product Safety Association) or Snell Foundation approved, says McCue. “The fit is just as important. Even if you’re wearing a helmet, if it doesn’t fit right you’re still at risk for head injuries. Make sure your helmet is level, two fingers’ width above the eyebrow, and that the strap is snug.” Make sure the helmet can be adjusted and is tightly fastened before your child goes riding.

Choose a bright-colored helmet that is plainly visible to motorists. “Another thing to remember is that if you are involved in a collision, helmets are only good once. Damaged helmets need to be replaced,” McCue adds.

Bicycle Dangers

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 51,000 bicyclists were injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2009, the most recently released statistics. Of those injured, about 8,000 were age 14 and younger and 630 died, 74 of whom were 14 or younger.

Despite the fact that nearly 70% of all fatal bicycle crashes involve head injuries, only about 20-25% of all bicyclists wear bicycle helmets, according to the NTSA.

Parent Suggestions

“My husband is a bicycle police officer for the city of Philadelphia and the bike helmet is an important part of his daily uniform,” says Philadelphia mom Michelle Lawson. “I love when he shows our kids and their friends his police- issued helmet and tells them no one is too old or too cool not to wear one.”

Others are more direct. “I tell them to wear their helmets because if they fall (not wearing one) they will crack their head open and it won’t be pretty. Sometimes you’ve got to tell it like it is!” says Aimee McMenamin of Collegeville, PA.

Mark Lauterbach is a MetroKids editorial intern and Temple University journalism student.

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