Safety First

By Tawny Maya McCray

April 11, 2017 5 min read

Bike riding, skateboarding and other outdoor activities are a lot of fun for kids, but sometimes accidents happen. A helmet is incredibly important for the safety and protection of their face, head and brain, no matter the distance or time of day they'll be riding. This helmet how-to guide will help you set you and your children up to kick off the new school year with success and security.

The U.S. government has implemented basic safety standards and helmet laws for children, and the statistics bear the reasoning behind doing so. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the most serious injuries involved in a majority of bicyclist deaths are those to the head. Helmet use is estimated to reduce the odds of head injury by 50 percent, and the odds of a neck, face or head injury by 33 percent. What's more, the Kids Health website reports that about 300,000 kids go to the emergency room each year because of bike injuries. Some of those injuries prove to be fatal, but even less debilitating head injuries can impact them for life. Children can suffer permanent personality changes and learning disabilities. Common long-term effects include concentration difficulties, aggression, headaches and balance problems.

Last year, one family's experience of the dangers of not wearing a helmet went viral, with almost 33,000 shares. As reported by the "Today" show, Tiffany Rivera's 10-year-old son, Jaden Rivera, got a new bike and helmet, and the helmet didn't fit properly. He took one spin around without wearing his helmet, and then fell.

Tiffany Rivera said she noticed swelling around his right temple the next day and decided to take him to the hospital. A CT scan showed that Jaden had fractured his skull and had an epidural hematoma. "The Doctors explained to me that my son needed emergency surgery within the hour to try and save his life," she wrote. "The chances of him making it were a 50/50 chance." He survived the 2 1/2-hour surgery and has suffered almost no permanent damage or disability.

Jaden Rivera and his family were lucky with the outcome. Pay attention to these basic elements when searching for a helmet for your children.

Kids Health says the first thing to look for on a helmet is a sticker that says it meets safety standards set by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The next thing to do is find the right helmet for size and fit.

Though there are tons of helmets on the market, in 2016, Consumer Reports shed light on a particular new offering in helmet technology: the Multi-directional Impact Protection System, or MIPS, which is a thin low-friction liner that allows the outer helmet shell to slide a few millimeters across the skull on impact, thus reducing the amount of energy and rotational force transferred to the head. The report says: "In our tests of two pairs of the same brand and model helmets -- one MIPS, one not -- the MIPS helmets reduced rotational force up to 43 percent compared with non-MIPs helmets. The MIPS helmets cost around $20 more than non-MIPS versions of the same brand." Bell, Garneau, Giro and Chamonix brands all sell helmets with MIPS tech, and the cost for added safety won't break the bank.

Because each manufacturer's styles and sizes differ, the best way to find the perfect helmet is to try a variety of brands and sizes. Never buy a helmet that's slightly too big, thinking your child will grow into it. Follow this three-step checklist, shown in the Consumer Reports "Bike Helmet Buying Guide," to adjust properly and ensure a correct fit:

--"The helmet should fit snugly, with your head partially compressing the soft foam pads inside -- even before the straps are tightened.

--"Select the size that fits as closely as possible without being uncomfortably tight. Then use the sizing pads, if provided, to fine-tune the fit.

--"Check in the mirror to be sure the straps form a "V" under and slightly forward of each earlobe."

One of the gripes children have with wearing helmets is that they feel awkward or bulky or look nerdy. But not to worry. There are hundreds of helmets on the market that are quite lightweight and have creative designs. Disney characters, children's movie characters, racing stripes, custom designs -- the options are endless. Or, if you find that the most protective helmet is on the plainer side, they could personalize it by adding some of their favorite stickers and decals. Reflective stickers are a great choice, because they help make the helmet more visible to drivers.

When it comes to your children's safety, the more informed and prepared you are the better. Take this knowledge to the store this year to buy the perfect bicycle helmet for your children and leave with confidence and peace of mind.

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