Wheeled sports provide endless hours of enjoyment and great exercise for children, but many may not understand the potential dangers that can accompany these activities. The Kohl's Cares Helmet Safety Program is designed to help prevent accidents when using wheeled sports and recreation devices including roller skates, skateboards, inline skates, bicycles, non-motorized scooters and retractable roller sneakers. Without proper instruction and safety precautions, children may be involved in serious accidents.
In the event of an accident, wearing a helmet reduces the risk of serious head injuries by 85 percent and severe brain injury by 88 percent; unfortunately, national estimates indicate that only 15-25 percent of children wear a helmet when riding. Universal helmet use by children ages four to 15 would prevent up to 45,000 head injuries and up to 55,000 scalp and face injuries annually.
"The most common serious injury we see from bicycle accidents is head injury," says Dr. Ryan Redman, Pediatric Emergency Medical Physician at East Tennessee Children's Hospital. "Helmet use can prevent almost all of this from happening. But parents need to set the example. No matter where children are riding – whether in the yard or on the street - they need to wear a helmet."
Helmet use should not be optional for anyone in your family, no matter where you are or how short the ride. In many states, it's the law. Here's why: Many accidents involve a head injury, so a crash could mean permanent brain damage or death for someone who doesn't wear one while riding. In fact, each year in the United States, about half a million children are seriously injured in bicycle-related accidents, and most of those injuries could have been avoided if a helmet was worn. To protect against brain injury, make sure your children wear a correctly fitting helmet on every ride.
Here are some things to keep in mind when buying a helmet:
Pick bright colors or fluorescent colors that are visible to drivers and other cyclists. Look for a helmet that's well ventilated.
Make sure that the helmet has a CPSC or Snell sticker inside. These indicate that the helmet meets standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) or the Snell Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit group that tests helmet safety.
Make sure your child's helmet fits correctly and can be adjusted. You should be able to get help finding a well-fitting helmet and adjusting it properly at any bicycle store.
When a child wears a helmet, make sure that the straps are fastened. Also make sure they don't wear any other hat underneath it.
Be sure to replace any helmet made before 1999.
If your child hits any surface hard while wearing a helmet, replace it - helmets lose their capacity to absorb shock after taking serious hits.
A few bike helmets can be used as protection for other activities, but in general, they're best suited to biking. Most helmets are made for one specific type of activity - for example, special helmets also are made for inline skating, baseball and snowmobiling.
Children should not wear any helmet when they're on a playground or climbing a tree - there is a risk of strangulation from the chin strap during these types of activities.
What children wear when riding is also very important for safety:
Fluorescent or bright-colored clothes will help kids be visible on the road, and they're more visible than white clothes. Avoid dark clothes, especially during early dusk and twilight hours.
Wear something that helps to reflect light like reflective tape.
Lightweight clothes will help them avoid becoming overheated.
Pant legs shouldn't be too loose-fitting or flared. These can get caught up in the chain while riding.
If your child wears a backpack while riding, make sure the straps are tied up and can't get tangled in the spokes of the wheels. Keep the backpack as light as possible.
Choose shoes that grip the surface or a bike's pedals. Cleats, shoes with heels or flip-flops can all create problems while riding. Kids should never ride barefoot.
Rules of the Road
Here are some must-know safety tips to teach children:
Always ride in legally designed areas.
Stop at all stop signs and obey traffic lights just as cars do. Yield to pedestrians, stop at red lights and be especially careful at intersections. Always ride in the same direction as cars do. Never ride against traffic.
Older children should try to use bike lanes or designated bike routes whenever you can - not the sidewalk. Children ages 10 and younger should ride on the sidewalk.
Never ride at dusk or in the dark.
Always stop and check for traffic in both directions when leaving a driveway, an alley or a curb.
Watch traffic closely for turning cars or cars leaving driveways.
Don't ride too close to parked cars - doors can open suddenly.
Always walk across busy intersections using the crosswalk and following traffic signals.
When riding in a group, always ride single file on the street.
When passing other bikers or people on the street, always pass to their left and call out "On your left." so they'll watch for you.
Never share the seat with a friend or ride on the handlebars - only one person should be on a bike at a time. It's easy to lose balance or suddenly swerve into traffic when riding with a passenger.
Never wear headphones while riding - it's essential to hear everyone else on the road at all times.
Never stand up while riding a bike.
Never hitch a ride on a moving vehicle.
Use your left arm for all hand signals:
Left turn: After checking behind you, hold your arm straight out to the left and ride forward slowly.
Stop: After checking behind you, bend your elbow, pointing your arm downward in an upside down "L" shape and come to a stop.
Right turn: After checking behind you, bend your elbow, holding your arm up in an "L" shape, and ride forward slowly. Or, hold your right arm straight out from your side.
Check these at least once each season to keep it safe and well-maintained. Be sure to check:
Tires - inflate to the pressure that's recommended on the sidewall of the tire.
Wheels - check the wheels of skateboards and scooters for wear and ensure they are in good working order.
Chains - oil regularly and remove dirt.
Handlebars - adjust for height as your child grows and tighten all bolts.
Brakes - check for frayed cables and replace worn-out brake pads.
Seat - keep the seat of a bicycle level and adjust for height as needed.
Surfaces - inspect the surface of a skateboard or scooter for wear.
For more information on helmet safety, call Children's Hospital Injury Prevention coordinators at (865) 541-8165.