No matter the location, with warmer weather in full swing this month, kids will literally be everywhere riding their bikes. From tricycles to training wheels to mountain bikes and even the stunt kind, there is some kind of bike for all of your kids…and you as the driver will be dodging those little boogers left and right. Am I correct? Riding on those two (or three) wheels with the wind in one’s hair until the street lights come on is what summer is all about–wouldn’t you say? But gone are the days that it is okay to just hop on the bike and go. We must consider one very important thing. Helmets are that one thing that should be used by all, especially our children.
Helmet safety is near and dear to my heart. You see, I was an Emergency Department Registered Nurse for nine years before transferring to a new department. I work at a Level 3 Trauma center which receives severely injured patients from the entire region. Included in the patient statistics were not just car and motorcycle accidents, but many, many times, it was from head injuries from falling off horses, skateboards, scooters, and bicycles.
People just don’t wear helmets like they should. Sadly, many parents don’t see helmets as an important thing–the argument being that they don’t want to raise those kids in a bubble. And then there’s the other excuse: they look dumb. Bubbles and “un-coolness” aside, while helmets won’t prevent every injury, they do decrease the odds significantly of having a life threatening or altering event. That makes helmet use worth it.
In my earlier nursing years I volunteered in a local group called Trauma Nurses Talk Tough (this link is to another TNTT group, not mine). We gave demos on safety related things, including helmet safety. We also gave away a ton of free helmets. It was then that I learned how important this stuff truly was. I began noticing how terrible most helmet use is. A lot of times, the child and/or parent isn’t wearing a helmet – even if it’s the law (I’m just as guilty). However, more commonly, the darned thing isn’t being used properly–which actually increases the risk of injury instead of preventing it!
We’ve all seen it. Picture a kid riding through the neighborhood with his helmet cocked to one side, slipped way back, or so small that it’s perched on top of the kid’s head like he’s balancing a stack of books. Or it’s not buckled at all! Or it’s the wrong kind of helmet (yes, it does matter what kind of helmet you are wearing). Or, it’s even dangling on the handlebar instead of being worn on the head where it belongs!
To make things worse, many think that if the bike rider is going at slow speeds or is on something like a scooter, the risk is minimal. Unfortunately, that is just not true. Not by a long shot. I’ve seen some significant head injuries that were at low speeds.
Let me give a couple examples of my own experience as a nurse.
I’ve cared for a 17-year-old female horse rider who was riding her horse in a nicely groomed arena at a walk. The horse got spooked and she wasn’t prepared. She fell off as the horse jerked to the side at that walking pace. Thankfully she was wearing a properly fitting equestrian helmet. She still suffered a hair line cervical fracture, but without her helmet it would have been a different story. Thankfully, she was discharged the same day she came into the ER because her injury was stable. (While this is not a bike accident, this is still at a walking speed and a great example of why this is all important.)
Now to a 7-year-old boy I cared for some years back. I remember it plain as day. It was a busy day in my ER when I walked out to the lobby (to call a patient back) to find a parent walking through the door carrying a truly lethargic, pale, sweaty little boy wrapped in a soaked blanket. He had been vomiting the whole way to the hospital, and while alert, he was confused. The details were vague during the initial care of this little boy because no adult actually saw what happened. Come to find out, the child had been riding his scooter at a local park and and had come home acting abnormal and not feeling well.
After examining the little boy and finding a goose egg on the back of his head, it was discovered that he had fallen off his scooter while going at a slow pace on the sidewalk with a friend. Without delay, a rapid cat scan was done and a massive brain bleed was found. The timeframe from park to hospital was less than an hour. He was deteriorating quickly and began to have more serious neurological changes. He was on the operating table within a very short period. He had at least one more surgery a couple days later. Thankfully, it was reported that he fully recovered. That was a miracle. Normally these stories don’t have a happy ending. While the boy made a medically full recovery, he likely has long-term behavioral and learning issues that go hand in hand with head injury.
In the story above, the little boy had a helmet, but he chose not to wear it. Sad, isn’t it? I don’t tell these stories to scare you. I do it out of love. Helmets are so very important.
Here are some guidelines and resources to get you started down the correct path if you haven’t already. *This is not a complete list.
* First, buy the proper type of helmet for the right kind of sport. There are huge reasons why one should not wear a bike helmet for a skate board and vice versa. Skate boarding helmets are designed to take an impact from all over but carry extra love in the back, can take more of a beating in general, and are usefully designed for skate boarding speeds. Bike helmets are designed for blunt force at specific angles that are typical of bike accidents and are designed to give way with the hit. They break with this hit as they absorb the energy. They also give the added protection for bicycle speeds.
*If you hit your head with a bike helmet, it’s toast. Get a new one. Many companies will give a discount or a credit for a new helmet. Click here for tips on what kind of helmet to buy.
* Proper fit of a helmet is essential. It’s not like buying a pair of shoes for your kids that’s a little big with “room to grow.” The helmet needs to fit perfectly, and if you allow your child to ride on something, the cost of a helmet needs to be included in that. Safekids.org has a slew of resources for many topics from cars to bikes. Below is a video from them on how to properly apply a helmet.
* In my opinion, if you don’t have the budget for a helmet, you don’t have the budget for a bike, skateboard, or other sport of choice. But…there are other options. Find your local Safe Kids Coalition or go to the local ER, fire department, or police station. You will be surprised at the resources available. My ER sold helmets at cost from the manufacturer, and my local Safe Kids Coalition has a reputation for giving them away for free.
* There is much more to bicycle safety than helmets. This link provides some great tips on what to teach your kids. (Includes more videos.)
* In this Seattle study, only 3% of childhood head injuries were serious or fatal. In my opinion, I don’t want my child to be that 3%. Bike accidents are still a top cause of serious injuries among children, so don’t let this stat fool you!
Have a child who is resistant to wearing a helmet? This is totally a homeschool project!
* Here is a PDF link from NHTSA.Gov with all of the same demos that I’ve used when teaching kids about helmet safety. These are hands-on techniques, and the kids get to destroy eggs and melons. Who doesn’t love making a mess?
* Here is a great resource for doing your own “melon crash test” with some helmets.
* Below is a fantastic science experiment done by a school-aged boy with various helmets. Note: the bike helmet was destroyed, but the melon was great. (When watching this video, the boy drops the melons from a balcony. With a ripe melon, this is not needed. Stand on a chair and drop it like you mean it! Honey dews are a great choice.)
Still have a resistant kid? Now might be a good time to refresh that homeschool mind on inertia and Newton’s Laws of Motion. It isn’t just the skull that needs protecting. When the head stops abruptly, like in a bike accident, the brain continues to move, literally sloshing against the skull. The helmet not only protects the skull to some degree, but it also absorbs some of that slosh-inducing energy.
It is also a good time to learn about that brain if you haven’t done so. Without the brain, the body is a veggie. Not a good thing for living.
What is my experience with helmets? My own daughter has broken a helmet or two when hitting her head from a fall. I am so thankful she had them on her head. If we are being transparent here, you need to know that I’m not perfect and still need to go to the store to get a new one!
In conclusion, a helmet it not your miracle shield. Even with a helmet on, there can be significant injury and/or concussion. There are also many other things to be concerned about with bike-related injuries. If there is any facial trauma or blunt injury to the torso…say from the handle bars…among any other crash injury concerns, please take yourself or your child to the local ER. Don’t wait. Safety first.
What is your experience with helmets? How have you incorporated bike safety into your homeschool teaching?