June 11, 2010, Kitchener, Ontario
Posted by: Robert Deutschmann, Personal Injury Lawyer
As recently reported in the wWaterloo rRegion Record, parents should ensure that their children wear a bike helmet when riding a bicycle. Head injuries can have a devastating impact on a child's health. Even minor bumps can be serious where there are cumulative head traumas. In addition to safety equipment, parents should also consider one of several safety programs that educate children about proper and safe biking techniques when on the roadway.
Ride safe — wear a helmet
June 11, 2010
WATERLOO REGION — Head injuries are a real threat to children riding bicycles every year.
And several steps can be taken to significantly reduce the risk — the most crucial and effective being a helmet.
Yet not all children wear them when cycling, in-line skating, skateboarding and scootering.
The use of helmets grew when the law requiring all children to wear them while bicycling first came into effect in 1995, according to Colleen Cooper, a public health nurse in the region’s injury prevention program.
“We have seen some of that drop off, particularly for kids who are out of the view of their parents,” Cooper said.
Statistics mirror that belief, as the incidence of head injuries among children rises with age.
“Each age group, we see bigger numbers as we go up,” Cooper said.
In 2008, the latest data from Region of Waterloo Public Health, 214 children up to 19 suffered a serious head injury requiring a hospital stay or ongoing medical treatment, not just from cycling but all causes including sports injuries and car crashes.
The majority — almost 70 per cent — were among children age 10 to 19. Close to half were between 15 and 19. Young males are twice as likely as females to suffer a significant head injury.
Across Canada, more than 1,000 children under 15 were injured while riding their bikes, according to 2007 statistics from Transport Canada. The importance of helmets and injury prevention was the focus of Safe Kids Week in Canada.
Cooper said the majority of injuries while cycling do not involve a collision with a car. That means a helmet is essential gear whether riding on a busy street, park trail or in the neighbourhood.
“You can sustain a life-altering head injury by falling off your bike in your own driveway,” she said.
And children are not safe riding on the sidewalk because about a third of collisions between bikes and cars are on the sidewalk. Intersections are also a trouble spot, especially if a rider doesn’t walk it across the road.
Parents wrongly assume children have the necessary skills to ride a bicycle safely, she said, but lessons are advisable and public health offers Can-Bike, a bike safety program for adults and children designed by the Canadian Cycling Association.
“That’s a step that a lot of parents miss. Most parents think about swimming lessons. Most parents haven’t thought about lessons for biking safely,” Cooper said.
Children shouldn’t be unsupervised on a bike until nine or 10, Cooper said, because they can’t make decisions about traffic.
Then parents should ensure children are ready to cycle on the road before allowing them out on their own, agreed Pamela Fuselli, executive director of Safe Kids Canada, the national injury prevention program of Sick Kids hospital in charge of Safe Kids Week.
A child should be able to explain rules of road, as well as have good handling of a bike and feel comfortable and confident. Parents should then follow their child for their first few rides to be sure those skills are demonstrated.
And, of course, a helmet should be worn every time a child cycles or does any other wheeled activity to reduce the severity of head injuries, Fuselli said.
“It’s really an effective piece of safety gear,” she said.
But not just any helmet will do. A child or adult should try on helmets to find one that fits well because designs vary. A proper fitting helmet will stay on the head without the chin strap when bending over.
Also, there are different types of helmets for different activities. Helmets for skateboarding are different from those for cycling, offering more protection at the back of the head.
Helmets need to be worn properly — the chin strap leaving only room for one finger, the straps around the ears snug and the helmet level — and replaced every five years or after one crash.
Cooper also cautions parents to look for helmets approved by a safety association.
“Unfortunately, it’s not against the law to sell helmets that aren’t approved,” she said.
While well-fitting helmets are important, so are the bicycles themselves. Cooper said many children ride bikes that aren’t the right size. Bikes that are too small are hard to manoeuvre and those too big are hard to control, which is why a child needs to change bicycles every two years as they grow.
“It’s important that the bike fit the child,” Cooper said.
Every bump on the head has a cumulative effect, making head injury prevention crucial to lifelong health.
“Protecting our brain is so important — and that goes for any age group,” Cooper said.
In Ontario, helmets are only required for children. Laws vary across the provinces from some with no helmet laws while others have more inclusive rules, such as Nova Scotia where helmets are mandated for all ages and all activities.
Cooper said children are more likely to wear helmets if parents explain why they’re important and wear helmets themselves.
“The need to wear a helmet is not dependent on the ability of the person wearing the helmet,” Cooper said. “Anybody can fall at any time.”
People interested in the Can-Bike program can contact public health nurse Colleen Cooper at 519-883-2008 ext. 5324.