Saturday, April 23, 2011

Parents Should Set Example for Kids in Wearing Helmets

 First published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan
April 18, 2011
by Rick Price, Ph.D.

If you are one of those parents that I see on the bike path who makes the kids wear a helmet while you pedal without one, this column is for you.  Oh yes, and you school teachers who bicycle to school without a helmet? It’s for you, too.  Kids imitate the adults around them.   If you don’t wear a helmet that tells your kids that helmets aren’t important.  

                                          Lance Armstrong at the Tour de France, July 22, 2004. 
                                          (Photo by Rick Price)

Kids are six and a half times more likely to crash their bike than an experienced adult.  Maybe parents know this.  And they may also know that almost half of children 14 and under hospitalized for bicycle-related injuries are diagnosed with a brain injury.  But do they know that by not wearing a helmet themselves they are effectively discouraging their middle school age kid from using a helmet?  In fact, only 11% of kids between the age of 11 and 14 wear a helmet. 

I believe that wearing a helmet is the last one of four things you should do and teach your kids to do in order to be a safe cyclist.  The first three things are 1) follow the rules of the road; 2) be predictable; and 3) be visible.   

In the fifty-six years or so that I’ve been riding a bicycle I can remember seven falls as an adult.  I’ve never hit my head seriously, but I’ve had a helmet on every time I’ve fallen.  I tell kids that I ride enough that I expect to fall again, despite my experience.  And with my goal of riding until I’m 90 I can’t really afford a brain injury. 

Macho, usually male, 4th graders often tell me:  “I don’t wear a helmet; I never fall off my bike.”  I suspect that these 4th graders are merely repeating something that they’ve heard an older male relative say. 

At one elementary school last month we invited one fourth grader into several of the PE classes to show us the scars on his face from a fall.  He had a new helmet at home that he got at a school bike rodeo.  But he didn’t have it on the day he hit a patch of gravel and took a spill.  He broke a tooth and visited the hospital but fortunately did no serious damage.

A few statistics help to make the point that kids should wear bike helmets:  1) helmets reduce the risk of a head injury by 85 percent and brain injury by 88 percent; 2) nationally only 41 percent of child bicyclists use a helmet; 3) 80% of bicycle-related fatalities among kids 14 and under are caused by unsafe bicycle behavior including riding into the street without stopping, swerving into traffic, running stop signs, and riding against the flow of traffic.

Of course, if we could just eliminate the crashes we wouldn’t need to wear helmets.  But we’re not there yet.  Please wear your helmet as an example for our kid’s if for nothing else.

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