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Summer Safety Part 3: Under 14? Helmet Up!

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By Sandy Rigas

            If you live in the village, look around the next time you’re outside or downtown. You probably see children on bicycles, scooters, skates or skateboards. Look again. How many of them are wearing helmets?

            A random survey conducted over several days in various locations throughout the village by this reporter concluded that one in 10 children was wearing a helmet. One in 10. That’s 10%.

            Thirty-seven states have bicycle helmet mandates for children, statewide or locally, with the end age varying between 12 and 18 years old. New York State’s bicycle helmet law, enacted in 1994, states that children (starting at age one) under 14 must wear a helmet. Wellsville Village Police Chief Tim O’Grady notes that,” the New York State law also includes those using skates, scooters, and skateboards.”

            Helmets have been proven to save lives, prevent traumatic brain injury, and reduce the number of emergency room visits. The National Institute of Health (NIH) reports that an average of 50 children are treated every hour in emergency rooms across the nation for bicycle related injuries. “Helmet use at the time of injury has resulted in a lower likelihood of head and neck injuries, and hospitalization. Eighty-eight percent of deaths or permanent disability from bicycle related incidents could have prevented by use of a bike helmet,” according to the CDC.

            Studies at Johns Hopkins show that since 1999 (roughly a decade after bicycle helmet laws for children began to be legislated) there has been a 54% reduction in the number of bike-related deaths in children wearing helmets. That’s a little over half, half of children who could have died did not! The “Share the Road” initiative, which began about 25 years ago, has contributed to motorist awareness of bicycle traffic and has helped reduce collisions involving bicycles and motor vehicles, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

            So why are there so few children in Wellsville wearing bike helmets? Is it due to lack of access, lack of resources, lack of awareness? Is it due to children refusing to wear them? “For children, wearing a helmet whenever riding a bicycle or scooter or using skates or a skateboard should be an automatic habit,” says Johns Hopkins.

            The Buffalo Bills wear helmets, so do the Buffalo Sabres. “A helmet should be standard operating equipment,” notes the National Institute of Health.

            “When you get a bicycle, scooter, skates or a skateboard for your child, take them shopping for a helmet, so you can find one that fits them and they can choose a style that is comfortable and that they like,” advises the Center for Injury Research and Policy Institute. “Let them have some fun decorating and personalizing it.”

            A properly fitting helmet should fit comfortably and snugly without rocking from side to side. The chin strap should have a working buckle.

            Helmets should be approved by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the Snell Foundation, or the American Society for Testing & Materials (ASTM). IF your child falls and the helmet is cracked, it should be replaced.

            Proper care of a helmet is important. It should be wiped off inside and out, periodically, and checked for cracks or broken straps. They should never be stored inside a car, as the heat will damage them. “Keep your child’s helmet where you keep their shoes and other athletic equipment, or with the bicycle, scooter, or skates, so they remember to wear it,” advises the Center for Injury & Research Policy.

            Research has shown that children of adults who use bicycle helmets are more likely to wear helmets, too, However, not all adults ride bicycles, not all adults wear bike helmets and most children using bicycles are not riding with an adult at the same time.

            Until Kmart shuttered its Wellsville doors several years ago, for nearly two decades bike helmets were locally available. (Perhaps that will change with Runnings opening a store here.)

Helmets, of course, can be purchased online, and those traveling to Hornell or Olean to Wal-Mart can find them there, as well as other sporting goods stores in a wider geographic range.

Hand-me-downs and second hand/gently used helmets should be carefully inspected for safety and tried on your child’s head to be sure of a proper fit.

            In recent years, the Wellsville Lions Club, and a few other local organizations have generously donated backpacks and school supplies for schools. Perhaps a bike helmet initiative could be taken up by a local group wanting to help the youth of our community?

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