Protecting Little Noggins

A Tight Fit Is the Right Fit
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Build Helmet Pride

Larry Black, parent and owner of Mount Airy Bicycles and College Park Bicycles in Maryland, offers this tip for promoting helmet use:

"Every time you see a kid wearing a helmet, say, 'Wow, that's a cool helmet.' It may sound very parental, but your kid will be thinking, 'I'm no nerd.'"

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Helmets are one of the few things you buy that you don't want your child to grow into. They need to fit quite snugly right from the start, or else they won't offer adequate protection.

Expect to pay about $35, and don't skimp. Plenty of kids end up with cheap helmets that don't fit. They're not worth buying.

First, consider buying only helmets that have passed the standards of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), or one or more of the voluntary bicycle helmet standards like ASTM, Snell, or ANSI. These labels will be on or inside the helmet.

Helmets should fit snugly and fairly low, within only one or two finger widths of the eyebrows. They usually come with several foam pads for proper adjustment. Chin straps should also be adjusted snugly.

I can't tell you how many kids I see riding around wearing their helmets incorrectly pushed backward, which leaves the part of the head most likely to make contact with asphalt—the forehead and frontal lobes—unprotected.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration recommends allowing as much as half an hour to fit a new helmet for a child. This means don't try to rush the job when you're about to go for a ride, which in our hurried world, is a natural thing to do.

For the NHTS's "A Five-Step Helmet Fit Test," visit their web site at www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

Helmets for Infants and Toddlers
I know of a proud cycling father who brought each of his boys home from the hospital in a bike trailer. He buckled the infants in a car seat, which he strapped into the bike trailer. His enthusiasm was definitely catching, and he was concerned about safety. Nonetheless, I doubt his idea was sound. Here's what you need to know about helmets for the tiniest cyclists:

*Anyone riding a bike, bike trailer, or trailer bike needs a helmet, and helmets don't fit well in car seats. More important, infants don't have the neck strength to bear the weight of a helmet, much less the damage that could be sustained during an accident, however slight.

*To be safe, check with your physician, but most don't recommend bike helmets until a child is age one or older, when they've gained sufficient neck strength.

*The rules about fit for the youngest cyclists are the same for anyone.

*Look for helmets with buckles, and check youngsters often to make sure their helmets are on. Very young children may not like helmets at first, as was the case with our twin girls, who managed to actually get theirs off. Their helmets had a sliding strap system rather than a buckle, which would be harder for them to manipulate.


Article and photos © Alice Cary


Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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