Helmet Safety and Fitting Transcripts

Welcome to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC’s podcast series on Injury Prevention. Today we’re discussing helmet safety and how to properly fit a helmet.

Some of the most enjoyable activities include riding a bike, zipping along on a pair of in-line skates, or carving down a mountain on a snowboard. They’re all great ways for kids and teens to be outside and exercise.

But as with any outdoor activity, it’s always a good idea to take some safety precautions, and one of the most important precautions anyone can take is to wear a helmet. It’s the best way to prevent head injuries.

Wearing a helmet is a good habit to get into for people of all ages, but it’s especially important for children and teens. First of all, it’s required by law in Pennsylvania and many other states that kids up to the age of 12 wear helmets when riding a bike.

It also makes good sense because a child’s brain is still developing, brain injuries can be life-threatening and life-changing. Wearing a helmet is simply a smart idea.

But how do you find the right helmet? Today we’re talking with Chris Vitale, Injury Prevention coordinator at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. She’ll tell us more about the importance of helmet safety and choosing a helmet that’s right for your child or teen.

Hi Chris, how important is helmet safety?

Chris Vitale: Research shows that wearing a helmet reduces the risk of brain injury in a bike accident by almost 90 percent, so we know that wearing a helmet can prevent a severe head injury and potentially save a child’s life.

In 2006, for instance, 163 children suffered serious bicycle-related injuries requiring admission to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. Even more troubling is that fewer Children’s patients admitted with bicycle-related injuries are wearing helmets. Helmet use by these patients decreased from 26 percent in 2000 to 21 percent in 2006.

Helmets should always be worn when riding a bike, skateboarding, in-line skating – anything on wheels – and also skiing, snowboarding, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, or any activity where you’re moving fast and in danger of hitting your head on something hard, like the ground, a rock or a tree.

Host: Will the same helmet work for all of these activities?

Chris Vitale: The same helmet should work fine for bicycling, skateboarding or in-line skating, but you’ll probably need a specialized helmet for horseback riding, snowboarding or skiing. A specialist at the sporting goods store should be able to tell you which helmets are best for which activities.

Host: Are there any instances when a child shouldn’t wear a helmet?

Chris Vitale: Usually it’s not a good idea for a child to wear a helmet when they’re climbing a tree or using playground equipment. The straps could get caught if they fall, and that could cause an even more serious injury.

Host: How can a parent be sure they’re getting an approved helmet?

Chris Vitale: They should look for a label on the helmet and the package that indicates the safety certification. There are several groups that certify helmet safety. Look for a sticker by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Snell, A-S-T-M or A-N-S-I.

Host: What size helmet should I get for my child?

Chris Vitale: Picking the right size helmet is probably the most important part of buying a helmet. The helmet should fit flat on the top of your child’s head, but not too loosely. Do not make the mistake of buying a larger helmet that your child will grow into. It will not provide the necessary protection, and your child’s head is almost its full size anyway. Buy the helmet that fits now.

It’s also important to adjust the helmet straps properly. Most bike helmets have straps that form a v-shape with one strap on each side of the child’s ear. The chin strap should be snug, but not too tight. You should be able to slip a couple of fingers underneath the strap. The helmet should move up and down slightly when the child opens his or her mouth widely.

The helmet should not wiggle very much when the child shakes his head from side to side. It also should not be able to slide too far forward or too far back on the child’s head.

Most helmets also come with extra pads that can be attached to the inside of the helmet to make it fit more comfortably.

Of course it’s also very important that the child keeps their chin strap fastened whenever they’re using the helmet. A loose helmet provides little or no protection to the child’s head.

Host: Does a helmet ever wear out?

Chris Vitale: A helmet can wear out if the child uses it a lot. If the straps get frayed or torn, or if any of the fittings break, the helmet should be thrown away. If a helmet has been involved in an accident, it also should be thrown out because it has probably lost its ability to protect the child’s head. We recommend against buying a used helmet, because you never know how it has been used before.

And remember that helmets are good for people of all ages. Parents can set a good example for their children by wearing helmets when they ride their bikes, too.

Host: Tell us about the Hard Head program at Children’s Hospital.

Chris Vitale: The Hard Head Patrol is a community awareness program that rewards kids for wearing their helmets, and provides helmets to kids who don’t have them. It’s sponsored by Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and Kohl’s department stores.

During the warm-weather months, Children’s employees and medical staff patrol their neighborhoods to raise awareness about helmet safety.

When they see a child wearing a helmet, the Hard Head Patrol members will give them a coupon for a free lunch at Wendy’s restaurants.

If they see a child without a helmet, the Hard Head Patrollers will give them a coupon for a free helmet and fitting.

You can find more information about the Hard Head Patrol at the Children's Hospital website. There’s a schedule of free fittings and more helpful advice for parents and children.

Host: Thank you Chris for reminding us that bicycling, skateboarding, snowboarding and other outdoor sports are great activities for kids, but it’s always important to wear a good-fitting, properly adjusted helmet at all times.

The most important thing to remember is that helmets can prevent more than three-quarters of all head injuries. At Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, it’s our mission to help parents and children learn that the simple act of wearing a helmet can help prevent injury and even save young lives.

Learn more about Injury Prevention from Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

If you have kids, be glad you have Children’s.