EXPERT COLUMN: RESEARCH AND PRACTICE IN CHILD PSYCHOLOGY

Why Don't Kids and Parents Wear Bike Helmets?

Richard Rende, PhD @richardrendephd
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August 04, 2017  | Last Updated: August 04, 2017

 

I have no idea why kids and parents don’t wear bike helmets.

I do know, however, that my very informal, naturalistic observation – conducted over the past few years – provides me with a gut estimate that something like 70 percent of the kids I see riding their bikes out and about in neighborhoods are not wearing helmets. That percentage may be even higher for adults, including those riding with their kids.

 

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What I also know is that there are a number of reasons why kids and parents should wear bike helmets. They come in the form of statistics.

First, bike accidents are not infrequent, and they lead to a substantial number of injuries. Consider that around 300,000 kids visit emergency rooms each year because of a bike accident, and 10,000 of these kids require hospitalization. And let’s state the obvious – a helmet, properly fitted and worn, provides protection against brain injuries.

Second, bike accidents are a non-trivial cause of death for adults and youth. Data collection by the U.S. Department of Transportation revealed over 800 deaths attributable to a bike accident in 2015, which was the highest total recorded since 1995. If you are wondering if wearing a helmet makes a difference, the same source provides telling numbers: 60 percent of the deaths were associated with no helmet use, whereas 16 percent occurred even though a helmet was used (helmet usage was not ascertained in the remaining 24 percent of cases).

These are very strong reasons to make sure a child is always wearing a helmet properly (make sure you get it fitted and receive instructions for proper usage when you purchase one). They also support the case that a parent (and of course any adult) should also wear one. Beyond protecting themselves, a parent provides a direct model for the child, and not wearing one – at all times – undermines the message that a child should wear one.

Despite these very logical reasons to support helmet use, it is the case that some people will be inclined to dismiss the risk. Let’s see … the numbers are not really that high … kids who have bike accidents are reckless or on busy roadways … we don’ go that fast … you need helmets only if you are going at a high speed or in traffic.

Such rationalizations are nonsense. Guess what – your brain doesn’t care where you fall or why. All your brain responds to is the impact that occurs from falling. If you are just sitting on a bike, lose your balance, fall, and hit your head, the impact can be severe enough to cause a catastrophic brain injury or death. It’s like saying you don’t need to wear a seatbelt when driving around your neighborhood. The logic is flawed every which way. And low probability events are very different from no probability events, an important point to keep in mind when those low probability events carry enormous risks when they occur.

There you have it, in terms of numbers and reasons. But if you are not convinced, have a look at this story as told by a parent and child.

Now, tell me why kids and parents don’t wear bike helmets.

 

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