Editor's note: Today's topic on helmet safety and parents putting their noggin to good use comes from Kira Ticus, transportation program specialist for Ecology Action and the co-chair of the Santa Cruz Community Traffic Safety Coalition.
I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. When the grey clouds of winter finally cleared and the air grew warm, bikes came out of the garage and my family would go on long bike rides to the Chicago Botanical Gardens.
Here in Santa Cruz, we’re lucky to have amazing weather almost year-round, but summer still brings a similar sensation of freedom, allowing parents and children to come together for those oh-so-special family bike rides.
Since moving to Santa Cruz, I have become a bicycle safety educator, managing Ecology Action’s Bike Smart! Youth Bicycle Safety Program
. Each year, I work with hundreds of students across Santa Cruz County through both in-class presentations and hands-on, on-bike training -- also known as bicycle rodeos. My goal is to educate kids on the safest ways to navigate our streets and bike paths.
As an educator, I have only a couple of hours to fill the students’ heads with mountains of knowledge about the importance of helmets, how to safely ride in the street, how to stay visible and what it means to ride predictably.
As parents or guardians, you have the opportunity to bestow this wealth of knowledge on to the children in your life on a daily basis. What better way to teach them than to go out for a safe bike ride with them?
The best way to instill safe bike riding practices in our youth is for you to be an amazing, inspiring role model for your kids. Ride as you would want your kids to ride. They look up to you, more than probably even you know. I know I will always look back fondly at those memories I have of riding with my family.
I could write a novel on the best ways to ride safely and could talk endlessly about the need for both bicyclists and car drivers to follow the rules, share the road and look out for each other. But, my main point today:
Wear a helmet and wear it right!
While the law says that anyone over the age of 18 can decide whether or not to wear a helmet when they bike, no matter your age, it’s still the smart thing to do. I hope you never need it, but it’s better to be prepared than suffer the consequences. I could rattle off statistics and studies about the effectiveness of helmets, but all you really need to know is that they will protect your head and can save your life if you are involved in a crash.
If you will not wear a helmet for your own sake, wear it for the children’s sake. Researchers at the University of Toronto in Ontario collected data on 2,094 children bicyclists age 5 -14 over a nine-year period. Their results:
- 95 percent wore a helmet when riding with an adult who wore a helmet.
- 41 percent wore a helmet when riding with an adult who didn't wear a helmet.
Here in California, kids under the age of 18 are required by law to wear a helmet every time the bike, roller-skate, skateboard or scooter. However, I’m sure we’re all aware that far fewer than 100 percent of children are wearing helmets. It seems like the majority of the time when I do see a family out for a ride, the kids are wearing helmets incorrectly and the adults are bareheaded.
If you want your kids to wear a helmet when you’re not around, and wear it correctly, set an example for them. Talk with your kids about the importance of helmets and how they should be worn. In the event of a crash, the fit of your helmet can make all the difference.
The right helmet, the right fit
Here are some guidelines on how to wear a helmet correctly for maximum safety:
- Size: Your helmet should fit snugly on our head. With the helmet on your head and the straps unbuckled, you should be able to bend over and have the helmet stay on your head.
- Position: The helmet should sit level on your head, covering both your forehead and the back of your head.
- Side Straps: The front and rear side straps should form a “V” below your ear, with the slider buckle sitting just below your ear.
- Chinstrap: When snapped closed, the chinstrap should be snug with room for one or two fingers between the strap and your chin.
- Wear and Tear: The general rule of thumb is that bicycle helmets need to be replaced every few years due to general wear and tear, and should always be replaced after a crash.
For more information about bicycle helmets or how to ride safely, please feel free to contact me: Kira Ticus, Program Specialist, Bike Smart! Youth Bicycle Safety Program
Ecology Action, firstname.lastname@example.org, 831.515.1324, www.bikesmart.org