Study Proves We’re Not Doing Enough To Get Kids To Wear Bike Helmets

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28148811_9537466870__1382890330_142.196.156.251When I was a kid we never wore bike helmets. We also jumped in our parents’ cars and sat on floor of the backseat, unrestrained. Times change – and as we figure out how dangerous certain behaviors are, we should aim to correct them. A new study shows we are really failing at keeping kids safe on bikes:

Despite a California bike helmet mandate, only 11 percent of Los Angeles County children treated for bike-related injuries were wearing a helmet, according to an abstract presented Oct. 26 at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in Orlando. Specifically, children older than age 12, and low-income and minority children were less likely to wear a bike helmet.

Of the 1,248 kids involved in bike-related accidents in Los Angeles County, only 11.3 percent wore helmets. There were definite gender differences: 64 percent of kids involved in accidents were male. Some huge ethnic based differences became evident in the study as well; “35.2 percent of white children wore helmets, compared to 7 percent of Asian children, 6 percent of black children, and 4 percent of Hispanic children.”

“Our study highlights the need to target minority groups, older children, and those with lower socioeconomic status when implementing bicycle safety programs in Los Angeles County,” said study author Veronica F. Sullins, MD.

Regional studies highlighting racial or ethnic and socioeconomic differences may help identify at-risk populations within specific communities, allowing these communities to more effectively use resources, said Dr. Sullins.

“Children and adolescents have the highest rate of unintentional injury and therefore should be a high priority target population for injury-prevention programs,” Dr. Sullins said.

I can understand older kids being reluctant to put on helmets; I remember how vain I was as a teenager. But if helmets become the norm, kids who wear them won’t be seen as pariahs. I’m sure in the seventies it was probably an uncool behavior among teens to wear seat belts. Today – the majority would agree it’s a good idea.

If this study proves anything, it’s that simply making a helmet law isn’t enough. We need to provide access, education and affordable options. Since there are currently only 21 states that have any bike helmet laws at all – there’s a lot of work to be done.

There are many affordable helmet options out there. If you think your community may be in need of this type of outreach, it may be a good idea to work with a school to organize a helmet drive. The helmets on the site start at only $3.95 and they meet the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) safety standard.

(photo: Flickr/CreativeCommons/ tico_24)


  1. thisshortenough

    October 27, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    I used to cycle to school and never wore a helmet because I used to cycle past a boys school and they’d already heckle me for being a girl in my school uniform and cycling. I didn’t need to give them more fuel

  2. EX

    October 27, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    Not long ago I saw a kid (young teen/tween) riding his bike a) without a helmet b) into traffic c) wearing headphones and the kicker d) texting (or doing something) on his phone. I was amazed (and horrified) at how many rules of cycling this kid was breaking simultaneously. But yes, we should start with encouraging/enforcing helmets.

  3. E Schutte

    October 27, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    But helmets might not be all they’re cracked up to be:

    • ElleJai

      October 28, 2013 at 7:01 am

      Hmm good point. But I’ll still be a motorist yelling “where’s your helmet” until/unless our law changes.

    • Rachel Sea

      October 28, 2013 at 1:19 pm

      All that just means that helmets are only one part of a comprehensive safety plan, but given that most parents aren’t pro enough riders to teach their kids everything one should know about bike safety, a helmet is even more important.

  4. MysteryDevil

    October 27, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    Wow! Here in Australia it’s rare to see a child without their helmet on. Police will fine you if they catch you!!

    • ElleJai

      October 28, 2013 at 6:46 am

      Not as rare as you’d hope. But the majority have the idea.. It’s the same people not wearing them however. Lower socio-economic status, racial minority, or some teen who thinks helmets are dorky.

      Every time I see someone not wearing a helmet (the worst are the ones with it hanging off the handlebars. How’s it going to protect your head from there?!) I want to yell at them.

  5. Evenaar

    October 28, 2013 at 9:13 am

    Did this study also say something about what effectiveness the helmet actually has? Coming from a country where everyone cycles and no-one wears a helmet I am of course a little bit biased. It seems the biggest effect helmet-laws have is to get fewer people to use their bike for day-to-day transport. And I think the safest way to create a bike-safe city is have lots of cyclists. I have also read some studies which suggest they are not so helpful during accidents and that cars drive closer to people wearing helmets. I would also think the yelling at people to wear helmets and the general rage towards cyclists in certain countries are a danger in themselves. I would invest in bicycle road-rules classes (we get them in primary school) over helmet-enforcement any day.

  6. Alicia Kiner

    October 28, 2013 at 9:34 am

    I’ve enforced the helmet rule with my kids since they started riding anything with wheels, so it’s a habit with them. I’ve also taught them to be aware of their surroundings. Once my daughter feels more comfortable on her bike without training wheels, (hopefully next spring) we’re going to do the family bike rides through neighborhoods, so I can start teaching them how to ride along the roads. Right now, they just ride in an empty parking lot, so they’re pretty safe here. I am not the norm though. I see tons of kids that ride their bikes to school that don’t wear helmets, and there is a law in our state that all kids under 12 must wear a helmet. Obviously, the school doesn’t even enforce it, so…

    • Rachel Sea

      October 28, 2013 at 1:20 pm

      Has your daughter ever gotten to ride a balance bike? They are so much more effective at teaching riding skills than training wheels, it’s remarkable.

  7. Rachel Sea

    October 28, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    Good helmet use starts with parents. If adults don’t wear helmets, then neither will kids.

    It would help if helmets were less uncomfortable. Even a great fitting helmet, creates wind noise, is sweaty, and usually looks stupid. I’m REALLY looking forward to these being affordable.

  8. allisonjayne

    October 29, 2013 at 10:24 am

    The gender and racial/ethnic differences are really interesting.

    We all wear helmets, even though as an adult I don’t have to legally, but how can I tell my kid she has to if I’m not doing it? My life is valuable too, and she loves me and wants me to be safe. What message would I be sending if I didn’t wear one, that my life isn’t as important? That once you’re a skilled cyclist, you no longer need to follow safety rules? That my hair style is more important than what’s under it?

    There was a study that cyclists in my city were quoting a lot a few years ago – something about how when you wear a helmet, cars actually drive closer to you (our laws require adult cyclists to ride on the road) than without, and a lot of folks were using that to justify not wearing a helmet. But really, that may or may not be true on a broad level, but that’s still not a reason not to wear a helmet.

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