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The lowdown on bicycle helmets and kids safety


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Skid lid, crash cup, brain bucket, cranium catcher: No matter what you choose to call your bicycle helmet, remember to wear it at all times. If you like recreational activities that involve wheels, concrete, or asphalt, it's important to protect your brain by wearing a helmet.

More kids ages 5 to 14 go to hospital emergency departments with injuries related to biking than with any other sport, according to the Brain Injury Association in Alexandria, Va. Statistics also show that between 70 percent and 80 percent of all fatal bicycle crashes involve brain injuries. In response, medical research shows that 85 percent of bicyclist head injuries can be prevented by a bicycle helmet.

With statistics like these, it's interesting to note that there is no federal law mandating helmet use, although 20 different states and 87 localities have laws regarding bicycle helmet use. In Montana, Billings is the only locality with a bicycle helmet law, mandating riders under the age of 16 to wear a helmet.

Bicycle crashes aren't the only thing sending children to the emergency rooms. During 2000, more than 36,000 children nationwide received emergency room treatment for scooter-related injuries.

Traumatic brain injury can have a wide range of consequences for the individual and the family. Brain injury can result in long-term disabilities; physical impairments like impaired vision, speech and hearing; memory loss; mood swings; impulsive behavior and inability to complete tasks.

In addition to the devastating human impact that brain injury can have on individuals, families, and their loved ones, it has a dramatic economic toll. According to the National Institutes of Health, the average lifetime cost of care for a person with severe traumatic brain injury ranges from $600,000 to $1.9 million. These figures do not include lost earnings of the person who is injured, lost earnings of his/her caregiver, or costs incurred by the social services systems.

To prevent someone you love from the potentially devastating impacts of brain injury while bicycling or riding a scooter, please follow these simple steps:

You always need a helmet wherever and whenever you ride. Bicycle incidents are most likely to occur within five blocks of home.

Even a low-speed fall on a bicycle path can scramble your brains. Almost half of all bicycle crashes occur in driveways and on sidewalks.

Make sure your helmet fits to get all the protection you are paying for. A good fit means level on your head, touching all around, comfortably snug but not tight. The helmet should not move more than about an inch in any direction, and must not pull off no matter how hard you try.

Check for the CPSC sticker when you buy, to make sure that your helmet meets safety specifications for biking and in-line skating. Multi-sport helmets with a Snell B-95 approval are designed for skateboarding, roller-skating, and riding scooters as well as biking and in-line skating. Snell B-95 helmets provide more protection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but you may have to check more stores in order to find one.

Pick white or a bright color for visibility to be sure that motorists and other cyclists can see you. Let your personality be reflected in your helmet by choosing your favorite color, or by decorating it with stickers and reflectors.

Common sense tells you to avoid a helmet with snag points sticking out, a squared-off shell, inadequate vents, excessive vents, an extreme "aero" shape, dark colors, thin straps, complicated adjustments or a rigid visor that could snag in a fall.

Children should remove their safety helmets when playing on playgrounds or climbing trees, as the straps on the helmet can snag and strangle them.

For more information on bicycle helmets and helmet safety, call the HELP committee at 265-6206.


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