Data analysis shows bike helmet laws save young lives

by Andrea Mooney on May 23, 2013

Photo by Michael Bentley

Spring is finally making its way to Boston, and with it comes the wonderful outdoor activities that children wait for all winter. Riding a bike usually tops the list, and new research underscores the importance of wearing helmets—no matter how young the child, how short the ride or how safe the street.

A study in the Journal of Pediatrics, conducted by William P. Meehan III, MD, Lois K. Lee, MD, MPH, Rebekah C. Mannix, MD, MPH, of Boston Children’s Hospital, and Christopher M. Fischer, MD, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, shows that simply having helmet laws in place results in a 20 percent decrease in death rates and injuries for children younger than 16 who had been in bicycle-motor vehicle collisions. Research has already shown that people who wear helmets while riding a bike have an 88 percent lower risk of brain injury; but the first step is getting people to wear those helmets—and having laws can help.

These days, parents can be inundated with injury prevention information concerning their children, so legislation can be an important differentiator in helping parents adhere to best-practice guidelines. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all cyclists wear helmets that fit properly for each ride and supports legislation that requires all cyclists to wear helmets.

“There’s a lot of evidence that wearing a helmet when you ride a bike is a good idea. Our findings show that in places with helmet laws there were real benefits, including a reduction in mortality. That’s about the strongest evidence that I can think of,” says Fischer.

Photo: Ben Grey

Parents might think that helmets are a “sometimes” rule or that their streets are particularly safe, but Lee urges helmet use at all times.

“It’s just like when you’re in a car: You may be a safe driver, but you can’t account for other drivers around you, so you should still be prepared to wear a seatbelt at all times. Your kid may be great at riding a bike, and your street might seem safe, but you should still wear a helmet every single time,” says Lee.

Introducing helmets as early as possible—even when the child begins riding a tricycle—may create safe habits and reduce resistance later. Parents can also model safe behaviors by wearing helmets themselves.

“One of the most important things you can do is to make sure a helmet fits correctly,” says Lee.

Here are ways to make sure your helmet and your child’s helmet are as safe as possible:

  • Wear the helmet on top of the head, not tilted back.
  • Make sure the helmet fits snugly and does not block vision.
  • Make sure the chin strap fits securely and that the buckle stays are fastened.

Helmets should not prohibit children from getting outside, riding bikes or enjoying the beautiful weather. But they will allow them to enjoy it more safely.

For more tips on injury prevention, visit Boston Children’s Hospital’s Sports Medicine Division website.

2 comments

  • Rose McClean

    Very informative Andrea! Helmets are especially crucial for preventing potential brain injuries that can be life threatening. A friend of mine suffered a bad concussion as the result of not wearing a helmet while biking.

  • Brandon

    Helmet laws do a great job of reducing injuries in child cycling incidents. Unfortunately they also heavily reduce child cycling in general, and as a result you have a direct contributer to the child obesity epidemic; which is far more dangerous in the long run.

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