Guest post by: Jane Rall, UW School of Nursing

For many, bicycles remind us of warm summer days cruising through the neighborhood to a friend’s or down the street for a cold treat! As tempting as it might be to hop on your bike and fly down the sunny street, feeling the wind in your hair, one bad decision could ruin a summer and potentially a lot more. Growing up, I remember wanting to ride my bike a few blocks to a friend’s and being frustrated with my parents for making me wear my big, unflattering and not to mention uncomfortable bike helmet. My parent’s made it very clear that wearing a helmet was not optional. Like most children my age, I eventually gave in.

As I write this post, I think yes, wearing a helmet is a no brainer, how could you not wear one? And yet, I see so many adolescents cruising around town on their bicycles, skateboards, and other modes of transportation without helmets! I was surprised to learn that 31% of adolescents between then ages of 11 and 19 reported not wearing their bike helmet when biking.1 This was alarming, especially because their brains still have much more developing to do. With summer knocking on our doors, begging us to come out any play, I thought it would be a great time to talk about bike helmet safety and try to understand why so many teenagers are choosing not to wear their bike helmets. According to one study in Minnesota, the top ten reasons given by adolescents for not wearing a bicycle helmet were:1

  • Annoying
  • Uncomfortable
  • Don’t own one
  • Ugly
  • It’s hot
  • Unfashionable
  • Funny looking
  • Messes up my hair
  • I forgot it
  • Friends tease me when I wear it

Adolescent’s concerns about how others perceive them, a desire for increased independence, and reliance on peers for social influences and morals are all important aspects of development during the teenage years. The list above makes reference to many of these aspects of development and helps explain why they may choose not to wear a bicycle helmet. In addition, the choice to not wear a bike helmet could be viewed as a step towards independence. Lastly, some adolescents are not fully aware of or understand the dangers of riding a bike without a helmet. In fact, seventy-five percent of adolescents indicated that the risk of head injury when bicycling without a helmet was between none and moderate.1 So, how do we motivate our teens to wear their bike helmets?

  • Get one! Low cost options available at most local fire and police departments, Seattle Children’s Hospital.5
  • Here is an option for free helmets in partnership with Kohl’s. http://www.seattlechildrens.org/classes-community/community-programs/kohls-helmet-safety/
  • Make sure the helmet fits so it can do it’s job! http://www.cdc.gov/headsup/pdfs/helmets/headsup_helmetfactsheet_bike_508.pdf
  • As a parent, be a good role model and wear your helmet.1,3
  • Encourage teens and their friends to wear their helmets when biking. Bike helmet use is significantly influenced by peer helmet use.1
  • Educate, educate, educate! As parents and providers, it is our job to educate our adolescents about the level of protection helmets provide. Bicycle accidents, including simply falling off a bike can cause severe, even life threatening brain injuries. Wearing a helmet can help prevent up to 85% of these injuries.3
  • It’s the law! The majority of counties in Washington State, including King County, require bicycle helmets to be worn by all ages.4
  • One helmet does not fit all! Make sure your teen has an appropriate helmet for each of their sports or activities.2 http://www.cdc.gov/headsup/helmets/index.html

Get out there and enjoy the warm, sunny weather but remember to keep that brain protected!

References:

  1. Finnoff J, Laskowski E, Altman K, Diehl N. Barriers to Bicycle Helmet Use. Pediatrics. July 2001; 108 (1):1-9. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/108/1/e4.long
  2. Helmet Safety. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web Site. http://www.cdc.gov/headsup/helmets/index.html Updated February 16, 2015. Accessed May 8, 2016.
  3. Seattle Children’s Hospital. Safety Resources. Bike Helmet Safety. http://www.seattlechildrens.org/safety-wellness/bike-helmet-safety/
  4. 2016. Accessed May 10, 2016.
  5. Washington State Department of Transportation. Bicycle Helmet Requirements in Washington. http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/bike/helmets.htm 2016. Accessed May 9, 2016.
  6. Low Cost Bicycle Helmet Resources in King County, WA. http://www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/~/media/health/publichealth/documents/injury/BikeHelmetResources.ashx
  7. Updated 4/11/16. Accessed May 9, 2016.