Helmets: Are they REALLY that important?


Bio banner for RN blogger, Rachel BlackburnDuring the warm weather months, many kids enjoy the sunshine and outdoors by playing outside. Riding bikes, rollerskating, skateboarding and riding scooters are all ways for kids to get much-needed exercise outdoors. Children need to be taught to wear proper protective equipment while doing these activities, especially helmets.

Kids may complain and say it's not "cool" to wear a helmet or will claim they’re hot or uncomfortable. Parents may even question whether a helmet actually provides that much protection. After all, many of us grown-ups made it to adulthood despite learning to ride a bike without a helmet!

The short answer is: It is important.  And here's why.

A Note About Your Noggin

The brain is quite possibly the most important part of the body. It controls whether or not we breathe, our heartbeat and how we think, reason, make judgments, see, feel, hear, move and so much more.

So, it would make sense to protect something that important, right?

The brain of a child is constantly learning, changing and growing. This is why it's especially important to protect them. A bad hit to the head could result in what’s called a "traumatic brain injury." 

A "bad" hit to the head doesn't have to be a hard one to inflict traumatic damage that can be permanent, so it’s best to avoid hits as much as possible.

What's the Helmet Law in California?

California law states that all kids under the age of 18 have to wear an appropriate helmet if they are doing any kind of activity on non-motorized wheels. This includes:

  • Riding a bike
  • Rollerskating (or rollerblading)
  • Skateboarding
  • Riding a scooter
  • Riding in a bike trailer

If a child is not using a helmet while doing any of those activities, they (and their parents) can be fined.

Do helmets actually make a difference?

According to SafeKidsUSA, there are about 275,000 non-fatal bicycle injuries every year involving kids. That’s about 690 kids a day.

Kids ages 0-14 using roller skates or roller blades average 38,155 injuries per year.  There are about 61,000 skateboarding injuries per year, and in 2004 there were 18,743 skateboarding-related head injuries treated. That’s a lot.

It has been estimated that bicycle helmets could have prevented 75 percent of fatal head injuries and 85 percent of non-fatal traumatic brain injuries in kids injured while riding their bikes. That’s a pretty big impact, by a parent insisting their child wear a helmet while riding their bike.

It’s also been estimated that if kids wore bike helmets every time they got on their bike, it could prevent 135-155 deaths, 39,000-45,000 traumatic brain injuries and 18,000-55,000 scalp and face injuries per year.

The point is that accidents happen, but the simple act of wearing a helmet can drastically lessen the likelihood of serious injury.

OK, you convinced me. My kid needs to wear a helmet while riding bikes, scooters, skates, skateboards, etc.  Is any helmet OK?

Not all helmets are created equal. Be sure you read the fine print on the box to ensure the helmet is meant for the activity for which you intend to use it and that it complies with all the necessary safety regulations. Luckily, most do.

Equally as important as wearing a helmet is making sure the helmet is fitted properly.  An improperly fitted helmet provides no protection. For helmet-fitting tips, please refer to the following article written by Cheryl Franco, MSNEd, RN.

Is wearing a helmet going to prevent all bike/skateboard/scooter/skate accidents?  No.  But it might keep your kids from taking a trip to the emergency room.

Helmets are designed to break in a crash and should not be reused once in an accident. Just like airbags and car seats, they need to be replaced once they have done their job in protecting the rider.

For more information, check out our hospital's Kohl's Injury Prevention Program Bicycle Safety Brochure.

Here's to a safe, fun spring and summer!