Each year over 350,000 children are injured in bicycle-related accidents. Fifty thousand of these children (most under 15 years old) suffer head injuries, often killing them or disabling them for life. The greater tragedy is that while studies have found that wearing safe bike helmets can reduce the risk of head injuries by 85% and the risk of brain injury by almost 90%, only 5% of all bike-riding children wear helmets.
There are many excuses for not wearing a helmet, including that they are uncomfortable, look funny, or unnecessary while riding in a quiet neighborhood. These are simply dangerous myths. Today’s newer, lighter helmets can be extremely comfortable and attractive, and since statistics show that most bicycle accidents happen within a few blocks of a child’s home, they are necessary even on quiet residential streets.
While there are no mandatory guidelines for manufacturers of children’s bicycle helmets to follow, there are two voluntary standards that helmet manufacturers may follow. One standard set by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is challenged by some safety groups because it is not stringent enough. Moreover, ANSI does not test the helmets itself. It relies upon the manufacturers to test their own helmets and report to ANSI. There are reports of some helmet manufacturers putting stickers on their helmets indicating that the helmets are approved by and meet ANSI requirements when, in fact, they do not.
A more stringent standard comes from the Snell Memorial Foundation. This is a non-profit foundation set up to establish strict requirements for the manufacturers of all types of helmets. For a helmet to be approved by the Snell Memorial Foundation, the helmet must be tested by Snell at its own laboratories to ensure that the manufacturer meets all safety requirements set by Snell.
When you select a bicycle helmet for your child, make sure that the helmet contains stickers that indicate that the helmet meets or exceeds ANSI Standard Z90.4 and, more importantly, that it has been approved by the Snell Memorial Foundation. These helmets may be a little more expensive than others, but the difference in cost could be the difference in whether or not your child sustains a serious head injury.