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Talking to Your Child About Bicycle Safety (and Tips for Fitting Helmets)

An IU Health West Hospital Release

— With more stories in the news about children involved in serious bicycle accidents, it’s a great time to talk with kids (even older, seasoned riders) about the importance of staying safe while riding a bike.

“One easy safety precaution to take is making sure kids wear the appropriate attire,” says Megan Crittendon, MD, medical director of the Emergency Department at Indiana University Health West Hospital. “Parents think about helmets but we often see kids in our emergency department that are injured because they didn’t have the right clothing on—specifically jeans and athletic shoes. Shorts and flip flops are not appropriate bicycle attire.”

A serious conversation about bike safety and the “rules of the road” can help keep your child safe and avoid serious bike-related injuries. Here are some conversation starters:

  • “Let’s check to see if your bike helmet still fits.” Make sure bike helmets fit by having your child shaking his or her head up and down and from side to side. If the helmet moves easily, you can add the padding provided with the helmet to make a tighter fit. If the helmet still moves easily after that, the helmet is not the right size and should be replaced.

    For helpful information on fitting a bike helmet, see below.
  • “Let’s go check if your bike is the right size for you.”
  • “When was the last time we tested your bike’s tires and brakes?”
  • “What are the best colors to wear when you ride your bike?” Wearing brightly colored clothing while on a bike, and making sure the bike has reflectors, makes it more likely that drivers can easily see cyclists.
  • “What are some times of day when it’s most dangerous to ride your bike?” The hardest times of day for drivers to see bike riders are in the early morning, in low light, and after dark.
  • “Let’s talk about your bike boundaries.” Kids should ride bikes only in places that parents tell them are safe to ride.
  • “Lets review the rules of the road:”
  1. Use proper hand signals for stops and turns.
  2. Ride in the same direction as traffic.
  3. Obey all signs and traffic lights.
  4. Walk your bike across busy intersections.
  5. Stop and look left-right-left and behind you before riding out into the street.

How Parents Can Properly Fit a Bicycle Helmet

The most important thing to remember when fitting a child’s helmet: bicycle helmet size is based on head size, not age.

To Measure

  1. Use measuring tape strip.
  2. Start measuring tape above the eyebrow and wrap around until the two sides of the tape meet.
  3. Write down the distance around the head in inches. This is the number used to find the appropriate helmet size.

Standard Helmet Sizing

  • Toddler
    19.3-20.5 inches
  • Small
    19-20.25 inches
  • Medium
    20.25-21.5 inches
  • Large
    21.5-22.75 inches
  • X-Large
    23-24.75 inches
  • King
    24.4-25.6 inches

To Fit

  1. Gently lift the back of the helmet up. The helmet should not move up and forward on the child’s head. If the helmet moves:
    a. Tighten the back strap.
    b. Make sure the chinstrap is snug (no more than 1 finger should fit between the strap and the chin).
    c. Adjust the padding thickness and/or position—especially in the front.
  2. Put a hand on each side of the helmet and rock it from side to side. Have the child shake his/her head “no” as hard as possible. The helmet should not move from side to side. If the helmet moves:
    a. Check the padding thickness on the sides.
    b. Make sure the strap is evenly adjusted.
  3. Have the child open his/her mouth as wide as possible without moving his/her head. The top of the helmet should pull down. If the helmet does not pull down when the child opens his/her mouth:
    a. Tighten the chinstrap.
    b. Make sure the front and back strap junction (the “V”) lies under each ear.
  4. Check to see where the front edge of the helmet covers the child’s forehead. The front edge should not be more than two or three fingers’ width above his/her brow. If the helmet does not cover the child’s forehead properly:
    a. Position the helmet no more than 2-3 fingers’ width above the brow.
    b. Tighten any loose straps.
    c. Make strap adjustments so the helmet stays over the forehead.

Each Time a Child Puts on a Helmet

  1. Place helmet on the child’s head so the front of the helmet is level with the ground. The helmet should rest just above the eyebrows.
  2. Straps should form a “V” around the ears. Place fingers around the ears to check.
  3. Secure the chinstrap so that no more than 1 finger fits between the strap and the face. The strap should be snug.

Important Note: If a helmet has been through a serious fall or accident, replace the helmet to ensure proper future protection.

Bicycle Safety

  1. Teach children that they may not get on their tricycle or bicycle without their helmet properly secured on their head.
  2. Establish the helmet habit as soon as the child begins to ride a tricycle or bicycle.
  3. Always wear your helmet to model proper behavior.
  4. Encourage other families in the neighborhood to make their children wear helmets to establish a norm.
  5. Use reflectors or wear bright clothing when riding at night.
  6. Bicycle flags are available as an extra alert to motorists that a bicyclist is present.

Bicycle helmets also provide protection for sports, such as rollerblading or roller skating. Wrist guards, knee pads and elbow pads are also recommended for these sports.

Bicycle helmets should not be used for skateboarding or aggressive skaters. There are helmets available that offer more protection for these sports than available with standard bicycle helmets.

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