A new study from Illinois Neurological Institute and Bradley University found what most cyclists probably already knew — bicycle helmets are effective to prevent or minimize injury in a crash. Scientists found that helmets can reduce acceleration of the skull in a crash by as much as 87 percent.
This study also follows a report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that noted that head injuries were the leading cause of death and disability related to bicycle accidents.
However, researchers in the INI/BU study also found that children are less likely to wear helmets than adults, with just 15 to 25 percent of youth cyclists donning a helmet in the US. So why aren’t kids wearing helmets?
“There are a few factors that we actually see and hear from children and parents while we are at our bicycle rodeos,” said Savanna R. Bohm, program coordinator at the Children’s Hospital of Illinois. “One, we have parents enforcing that their children should wear them. Children look to their parents for guidance and if their parents are not enforcing that they should wear a bike helmet, then the child will not wear a bike helmet.”
Another factor is one of fashion, she added. Kids simply don’t think helmets are cool.
“We see this especially with older children,” Bohm told BikeRadar. “In the State of Illinois it is not a requirement to wear a helmet so it is really a choice whether a person wears or enforces wearing bicycle helmets.”
The perception of uncoolness often extends to adults, too. A recent opinion piece in the New York Times details the author’s joyful experience riding without a helmet in Paris – alongside thousands of other bareheaded adults. The piece argues that enforcing helmet use discourages people from riding bikes, which is a generally safe activity.
One question that is asked is whether helmets are as important for children, given that young riders don’t tend to ride in traffic or at speeds that many adults ride at. These factors shouldn’t be considered said the researchers.
“Even looking at children that are riding on the sidewalk there are vehicles that are backing out of driveways and might not see the child,” Bohm added. “We see children come into the hospital with head injuries just because they hit a rock and flipped over their handlebars.”
She stressed that it doesn’t matter if the child is going fast or slow, there are all different things that could happen to cause a child to crash and injure themselves.
“Since 2002 we have seen 1,774 children come into the Emergency Room at Children’s Hospital of Illinois due to a bicycle crash and 208 of them were severely injured enough to be admitted into the hospital,” she emphasized.
And while the study suggests that helmets can prevent injury, some don’t think the current helmets go far enough.
“One of the things we’ve said is that there hasn’t been much in the way of more safety,” said Randy Swart, director of the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute. “Helmets have advanced some in the things that don’t matter as much, such as graphics.”
But Rohm counters that most helmets on the market can still provide protection that isn’t there without the helmet. She added that parents should consider the so-called four S’s to ensure a helmet fits correctly.
“Straight – the helmet should be straight on the head and level with the ground, and should be above the eye brows, this protects the front forehead area in case you were to fall forward on the bike,” Rohm noted. “Snug – you want to make sure that the helmet is nice and snug and fits just like a baseball cap would. Strap – The side straps should make a ‘V’ around both of the ears. This is important because it will help keep the helmet in place. Finally, Snap – when you snap the strap together you should be able to fit only 2 fingers in between the strap and your chin, if you fit more then you need to tighten the straps. It should be snug enough that it is not falling off of the head.”