Research shows parents need to enforce helmet use in children

 

A new study shows that not all parents understand the importance of helmet use in children, with a worrying number of children under four riding scooters without helmets.

Researchers from Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network, Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA), and UNSW Sydney reviewed more than 300 cases of children who presented to emergency departments with injuries caused while riding bicycles, scooters or skateboards.

More than 30 percent of non-helmet users in the study believed helmets were only  required in certain situations, with a further 30 percent not wearing helmets due to their perceived expertise. Parents were found to be the biggest influence on children wearing helmets. The study also found that children were positively influenced by peer-pressure or well known ‘experts’ and celebrities wearing helmets or sharing the helmet wearing message.

Younger children are already at higher risk of injury due to lack of skill, poor capacity to judge road traffic, an underdeveloped neuromuscular system and a higher centre of gravity which increases their risk of injury from a fall.

Falls from bikes, scooters and skateboards are a leading cause of hospitalisation in children aged 10-14 years. Head injuries are associated with increased risk of hospitalisation and mortality, with potential long-lasting negative effects on a child’s quality of life.

The law requires helmets to be worn for bicycle riding in all Australian states; however South Australia is currently the only state requiring their use for all non-motorised vehicles such as scooters and skateboards too. (Separate laws cover helmet use for motorised vehicles).

Helmet use decreases the chance of head injury by 61 percent, facial injuries by 33 percent, as well as lowering the chance of fatality by 65 percent.

Parents need to ensure their kids are wearing a well-fitted helmet every time they ride their bike, scooter or skateboard; making rules non-negotiable early on in order to establish good lifelong habits.

How to fit a helmet

There are different helmets for different activities such as bicycle riding or skateboarding, so choose the helmet best suited to the activity. All helmets must be fitted correctly to provide the best protection:

  • Helmets should be snug on the head, and comfortable when the straps are done up and adjusted.   
  • Aim for a two-finger space between the eyebrows and the front edge of the helmet.
  • The straps should sit flat, with no twists, and join in a V shape below the ears.
  • You should be able to slip two fingers between the strap and the underside of the chin.

Remember to replace any helmet that has been involved in a crash or severe fall – it’s done its job and cannot be relied upon to offer the same protection a second time. Also replace helmets where the inner foam is cracked or the straps are worn or frayed.

Dr Susan Adams, Paediatric Surgeon, Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick.