Bicycle Helmet Safety
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) bike helmet standard is law now for every helmet made for the U.S. market after 1999. CPSC is the benchmark standard. Every bicycle helmet sold in the US will have a CPSC sticker inside.
A good shop helps with fitting, and fit is important for safety. Lab tests show that a discount helmet is equally protective if you take the time to fit it carefully on your child. All helmets are cheap considering the importance of their benefit, so don’t wait for a sale.
A child of any age needs head protection when riding, but a small toddler’s neck may not be developed enough to support the weight of a helmet. For this and other reasons, nobody in the injury prevention community recommends riding with a child younger than age 1. If in doubt, take the child and helmet to a pediatrician for advice. Child helmets need ventilation in hot weather, since the foam holds heat in. Toddler heads vary in shape, so pay careful attention to fit. The helmet should sit level on the child’s head, and fit securely with the strap fastened.
When to replace your helmet
Many child helmets come with two or even three sets of foam fitting pads. You can start with thick pads and use the thinner pads as your child’s head grows. The fitting pads do not affect the impact protection of the helmet. That is provided by the firmer crushable foam (picnic cooler foam). Replace any helmet when your child crashes in it. Impact crushes some of the foam. The helmet is less protective although the damage may not be readily visible. Helmets soften impact, so the child may not even be aware that their head hit until you examine the helmet for damage. Replace the buckle if it cracks or if any piece of it breaks off. Nobody prompts you to replace your child’s helmet, so give it some thought.
Bicycle helmets for other sports
- Standards for biking include inline skating.
- There is no standard for tricycle or scooter helmets, but CPSC says bicycle helmets work well for them.
- Aggressive extreme trick skating and skateboard helmets have a different standard (ASTM F1492) for multiple hits but lesser impacts.
- Most skate helmets meet bike helmet requirements, but only if they have a CPSC bike standard sticker inside. Skate helmets may not meet bike helmet requirements unless they have a CPSC bike standard sticker inside.
- Helmets for equestrian sports have a unique design to resist a horse’s hoof.
- Helmets should be removed when children go on the playground. In 1999 the first US death involving a bike helmet catching on playground equipment occurred. There have been other near misses. Be sure to teach your children to remove their helmets before using playground equipment or climbing trees.