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Letter to the editor: Parents, it’s time to check your child’s bike helmet

From Shawn McMahon, MD,

family medicine physician, Lake View Medical Clinic

It’s spring and kids are excited to get out and ride their bikes. As you’re checking bike tires and the height of the seat, also check your kids’ helmets to make sure they still fit properly.

There’s a misconception among parents, especially those with younger children, that kids are not that high off the ground when they ride, so they’re in less danger if they fall. But with bikes, it’s not the height, it’s the velocity that counts. If kids are riding fast and they hit an object, they’ll get tossed off the bike. We see a lot of injuries like cuts on the forehead and scalp, and even concussions. According to the Children’s Safety Network, bike helmets can prevent up to 85 percent of nonfatal head and scalp injuries.

Another misconception is that helmets last forever. Helmets are like car seats. If they’ve been in a fall or an accident, they need to be replaced to ensure that your child is properly protected. Even tossing the helmet onto the driveway or garage floor can damage it enough so that it’s no longer safe to wear. Helmets also need to be replaced as your child grows.

Many community groups offer bike safety rodeos and provide helmets for free or at reduced cost. Bike rodeo volunteers or organizers can help you make sure that the helmet is the right size and fit for your child. And while it’s a challenge to get older kids to wear helmets, make sure they have a helmet that fits and encourage them to wear it, too. Skateboarders, downhill skiers, distance bikers and other athletes now wear helmets, so it’s becoming common equipment for all ages.

As a parent myself, I know how frustrating it can be to get the proper fit. Here are some tips to ensure that the helmet is positioned to offer the most protection:

• There should be space for two fingers between the eyebrow and the helmet on the forehead.

• The V strap should fit under the child’s ears.

• There should be one finger space between the chin and the chin strap.

A bike helmet is a lot cheaper than a trip to the emergency room. Check your children’s helmets when you check their bikes, and while you’re at it, check your own helmet. You and your family will be riding safely this summer.