Answers to Your Questions about Bicycle Helmets

Apr 13, 2011

Wearing a bicycle helmet is the single most effective safety measure you can take in bike riding. Make sure the helmet fits well and has a label indicating it meets safety requirements.

What can I do to make bike riding safer?
Wearing a bicycle helmet is the single most effective safety measure you can take in bike riding. Make sure the helmet fits well and has a label indicating it meets the safety requirements of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or the Snell standards.

What is most important in fitting the helmet?
Use foam pads or straps inside for a comfortable but snug fit. Tighten the straps enough to keep the helmet from changing position on your head. To protect your forehead, wear your helmet level, not tilted back.

Where can I buy a helmet?
Bicycle shops and some discount and toy stores have helmets that meet ANSI and Snell safety standards.

Which kind of bicycle helmet is best?
Helmets come in hard-shell and soft-shell design. All helmets have a thick layer of polystyrene that crushes on impact. Hard-shell helmets also have a hard outer shell of fiberglass that, in a crash, protects against penetrating objects and holds the polystyrene together. In soft-shell helmets, the polystyrene is extra thick and has a cloth cover that protects the polystyrene on impact. As long as it meets safety standards, eithe type of helmet is a good choice. A white or fluorescent-color helmet adds the protection of visibility.

Will I be protected by a helmet from another sport?
A helmet is designed for the specific conditions of each sport and may not protect against the forces generated in other sports. A bicycle helmet especially protects against headfirst falls; it is also lightweight and well ventilated.

Can I reuse my helmet after a crash?
Any helmet that has been in a crash and has a cracked or crushed polystyrene liner should be retired with gratitude. It has served its purpose and will not provide adequate protection in another crash.

When should children begin wearing a bicycle helmet?
When you buy a bike for your child, buy a helmet at the same time, so the child never develops the habit of riding bareheaded.

How long will a child’s helmet fit?
A child’s helmet should fit for at least 4 or 5 years. Most models have removable fitting-pads that can be replaced with thinner ones as the child’s head grows.

What can I do to encourage my children to wear a helmet?
Ask them if they understand what their brain does for them, and what happens if the brain is injured. Remind them to wear the helmet each time they ride. Wear a helmet yourself to serve as a model of behavior. And reward your children with small prizes for wearing helmets.

This guide, which appeared in The Journal of Musculoskeletal Medicine in 1991, was prepared by Abraham B. Bergman, MD et al of Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center in Seattle.

 

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