What You Should Know About Helmets

Helmets can help prevent serious injury or death. Jason, Jenna, and Jeff learned the hard way.

When Jason was 12, he was a pitcher on the All Star Little League team and played competitive soccer. He was also an honor student. Jason loved to ride his bike, but he didn’t like to wear his bike helmet. One Saturday afternoon, to avoid a confrontation with his mom over wearing a helmet, Jason rode out of the yard with his helmet on. But when he was a few blocks away, he took it off and put it in his backpack.

Shortly afterward, Jason was hit by a van. The shaken driver called an ambulance, and within minutes Jason, unconscious, was speeding toward Valley Memorial Hospital. Jason went into a coma and suffered traumatic braininjury because he hadn’t been wearing a bike helmet.

Jason is now 16. It’s been four years since his accident, and he has made an amazing recovery, but he’s not the same as he was. “I am a different person since the accident,” says Jason. “I will never pitch again because my left [pitching] arm doesn’t work. I can’t play soccer because my speed and balance are impaired. I have to attend special education classes because my brain is now too slow to keep up with regular classes, and I will never be able to drive a car or ride a bicycle. I still have to go through painful physiotherapy sessions every week.”

Jenna, 14, loves to snowboard. She’s a great athlete and a real risk-taker. Last winter while doing a 180-degree turn, she lost control and came down hard on her head and neck. She was knocked unconscious for a couple of minutes. When she came to, she had a headache and slight tingling in her right arm and fingers. A member of the ski patrol checked her out at her friends’ insistence, and he recommended she go to the local hospital for a thorough checkup.

At the hospital, Jenna had an MRI and was “chilled” by the words of the physician who attended to her. She said, “You are extremely lucky, Jenna. You have only a slight concussion, but if you had fallen about a half an inch over to the right, you would have severed your spinal column and would never have been able to walk again.” Since that day, Jenna wears a helmet when she snowboards.

Jeff, 16, loves, in-line skating; he’s been doing it since he was 10. Every day after school he heads out with his friends to skate around the city. He loves the feeling of freedom being on skates gives him. It’s also a great way to spend time with his buddies.

Jeff learned about the importance of wearing a helmet the hard way. His good friend, Devon, died at age 12 when he caught his skate in a sewer grate, flipped over, hit his head, and ended up with a cerebral hemorrhage.

Since Devon’s death, Jeff wears a helmet he bought at the local sports shop. He did a lot of reading about the safety features of various helmets and decided on one that met his needs, looked cool, and felt good on his head.

If you enjoy cycling, in-line skating, or snowboarding, here are some important safety tips about helmets:

* Wear a helmet every time.

* The helmet should be worn low and level on your head, and the chinstrap should be snapped and fit securely.

* All bike helmets now made in or imported to the United States must meet the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) safety standards.

* If you hit your head in a crash, throw away the helmet worn during the crash and purchase a new one. While the outer shall of the helmet may Still be intact, the inside cushion may be damaged and will not provide enough protection to prevent future head injuries.

Getting In-line

The most common cause of in-line skating falls, according to the International In-Line Skating Association, are due to hazardous road conditions such as potholes, sewer grates, or unexpected conditions such as hills and heavy traffic. Wearing the proper protective equipment can help prevent injuries.

Follow these safety tips from the Massachusetts Governor’s Highway Safety Bureau:

* Always wear a helmet whenever you skate.

* Check your skates before each use. Tighten wiggly wheels, adjust or replace worn brake pads, and clean or replace bearings when you hear a wheel grinding.

* Skate in control.

* Skate on the right, pass on the left.

* Don’t wear headphones; they prevent you from hearing the traffic around you.

* Avoid skating through sand, oil, water, and road debris, and over sewer drains.

For more information on inline skating and how to prevent injuries, check out the International In-Line Skating Association (lISA) Web site at www.iisa.org.

What You Can Do

Take action on helmet use. Here’s a list of suggestions to get you started:

1. Organize a head injury safety week at your school. Get ideas from the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation Web site at www.nyssf.org.

2. Invite a well-known sports figure who wears a helmet for his or her sport to speak about head injuries and helmet use at a school assembly.

3. Negotiate with a helmet supplier so that a percentage of each helmet sold locally goes to your school’s activity fund.

4. Collect stories from your friends and classmates about people they know who have suffered sports-related headinjuries.

5. Ask classmates or friends who don’t wear helmets when doing sports why they don’t, and note these on a flipchart. Ask those same friends what it would take for them to change their behavior and begin wearing helmets while cycling, skateboarding, and snowboarding. Offer to write the results of your investigation in the school paper.

You may or may not know a Jeff, Jason, or Jenna. If not, it’s only a matter of time. Head injuries due to recreational sports are on the increase among U.S. teens. Most of these injuries may be prevented by the simple act of wearing a well-fitting helmet. What will you do, if anything, to improve the statistics?


1. Why do you think that so many young people resist wearing protective headgear? (Answers should include recognition that young people see themselves as invincible.)

2. How much of a problem is the issue of head and neck injury? In what ways could this issue affect you and your friends, considering your lifestyles and activities? Assign students to groups to do research on the subject (see Web sites suggested below). When groups have completed their research, have them find creative ways to present the results to motivate people toward the use of protective headgear. (Remind them to think of the answers to question #1.)

a) www.cdc.gov/epo/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss4905al.htm–You will find an article on the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. Students can look at head injury-related behaviors–perhaps even find data related to their state in the most recent YRBS completed in May 1999.

b) www.cpsc.gov (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission)–Assign students to outline exactly what the criteria are for safe, protective headgear products and for their use, and then find a way to communicate this–perhaps in a slide show, a Power Point presentation, or posters.

c) www.thinhfirst.org. (the National Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Prevention Program)–Find out if there is a local or state chapter of Think First in your area. They locate speakers who can attest firsthand to the problems associated with brain and spinal cord injuries. Their message is prevention. Have students plan a classroom presentation or obtain administrative permission for an assembly.

Tips for bikers Choosing and Using a Safe Helmet

Dr. Frederick Rivara, physician-researcher and director of the Harborview injury Prevention and Research Centre in Seattle, has spent the last 15 years persuading Americans to wear bike helmets. Rivara’s latest study shows that wearing a bike helmet is not enough. “In a study of 3,400 riders, people wearing helmets that didn’t fit correctly (by their own accounts) were twice as likely to suffer head injuries as cyclists with a proper fit.”

A helmet that fits properly, according to Randy Swart, director of the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute in Arlington, Virginia, should:

* comfortably touch the head all the way around

* sit level on your head, stay in place, and be able to resist hard blows or violent shakes to the head

* be fastened snugly by the chin strap to prevent the helmet from rocking back and forth. It also shouldn’t pinch your chin.

Keep the foam pads that come with new helmets. They allow for a more customized fit, particularly at the sides of the head, as your head grows or as you change your hairstyle. For additional information, check out www.helmets.org.

Did You Know?

* More than 750,000 Americans each year report injuries received during recreational sports, with 82,000 involving brain injuries. Brain injuries cause more deaths than any other sports injury.

* About 130,000 children a year go to hospital emergency rooms with head injuries suffered in bike crashes.

* Bike helmets can reduce the risk of head injury by 85 percent.

* About 60 percent of all bike-related deaths involve head injuries.


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