Wear Your Helmet!

Wearing a well-fitting bicycle helmet is one of the first and most important steps for safe cycling.

by Meghan Sahli-Wells

Although adults are not required to do so by law, wearing a bicycle helmet can save your life in case of an accident. It also sets a good example for others to follow.

Here are the facts:

  • 91% of cyclists killed in accidents in 2008 & 2009 were not wearing helmets (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)
  • “Bike helmets can reduce the risk of brain injury or death by up to 85 percent. Yet, only about 15 percent of all children nationally wear a helmet when they ride a bike.” (Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute)
  • CA state law requires that all minors must wear helmets when riding bikes, scooters, skateboards, and skates. Further, the California DMV states that parents & legal guardians of minors who violate helmet laws “shall be jointly […] liable with the minor for the amount of the fine imposed.”

The statistics are clear: wearing a helmet can save your life. The law is definitive: children must wear helmets. Why do so few riders do what good sense and the law dictate?

The most common complaint about helmets is the way they look and feel. Rest assured, you don’t have to sport spandex to protect your noggin. Companies like Nutcase make funny and stylish helmets, available in our local bike shops. Try the watermelon or 8 ball helmet, or the classier 1950’s-inspired star and flower patterned helmets. You can also personalize any helmet with stickers, paint, markers, photos, or whatever inspires you. The incredible variety of helmets is such that today, there really is a helmet for every head. Finding the right size and shape will definitely help your comfort level. If a helmet feels uncomfortable, first make sure you have the appropriate size, experiment with the interior padding, you may need more in some places, less in others, and adjust the straps for the best fit.

If you’re watching your budget, here’s some good news: according to Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute testing, cheap helmets have about the same impact protection as expensive ones. You can get a decent helmet for as little as $10.

Whether the helmet is a fashion statement for the chic cyclist, an economical choice for the pragmatist, or the latest ergonomic design for the enthusiast: in order to be effective, every helmet must fit correctly.

  • Make sure it protects your forehead without blocking your vision, sitting a half inch to an inch above your eyebrows or glasses
  • It should be snug enough so that it doesn’t move around when you push on it or shake your head vigorously
  • The side straps should form a triangle meeting just below your ears
  • The neck strap should be in contact with your skin, not hanging loosely
  • Ask a staff member at your favorite bike shop to measure your head, pick out, and help you fit your helmet properly. There are also many resources on the internet to guide you through the fitting process.

“I’m convinced I should use a helmet, but how do I get my kids to wear theirs?”

The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute has great tips for getting kids to wear their helmets, which include:

  • Wear a helmet yourself, you’ve got to set the example and model the behavior you want to see
  • Start the helmet habit early, as soon as they get their first bike (or scooter, or skates)
  • Let them pick out their own helmet – they won’t wear it if they don’t like the way it looks, plus they need to try it on since proper fitting is key for comfort and protection
  • Tell them the reasons why you want to protect their heads: take a moment to tell your child just how important s/he is to you, and why you want to save his or her beautiful mind from harm
  • Point out the professional sports that require protective helmets
  • Don’t make wearing a helmet a choice, make it a condition of riding

See http://www.bhsi.org/kidswear.htm for more.

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