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HIGH LIFE: A WEEKLY FORUM FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS : Bicycle Helmets Can Save Lives but Kids Resist Them

Every year, more than 600 children under age 15 die in bicycle-related crashes, research shows. And in more than 80% of the cases, head injuries are involved. Still, bicycle helmets remain a hard sell. Fewer than 5% of young bikers wear them, several studies suggest.

To find out why, Boston researchers interviewed 42 fourth- through sixth-graders. Their findings were published recently in the American Journal of Diseases of Children. The students say they often don’t associate head injuries with bike crashes, thinking more often about the possibility of cuts, scrapes and limb injuries.

Few students expressed positive attitudes about wearing helmets. They said others would make fun of them or think they’re “a weirdo.” But their comments changed when asked what they thought of other helmet-wearing children, whom they called smart, safety-conscious or good.

“Perhaps the most significant findings were that children did not hold negative attitudes toward other children who wear helmets and that children were not resistant to the idea of mandatory helmet use,” says Jonathan Howland, a Boston University School of Public Health assistant professor and study co-author. “Parents and pediatricians need to tell kids it’s OK to wear helmets, that other kids are going to secretly admire them.”

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Other advice on helmet purchase and wear:

Give the child a say. In the Boston study, certain colors and styles were preferred. Black was hot, as were teardrop styles seen in the movies; white helmets were out.

For maximum safety, pick a hard over a soft shell, suggests Dr. William Boyle, a pediatrician in Hanover, Mass., and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Accident Prevention.

Anticipate savings soon. The price on children’s bike helmets, now ranging from $17 to $50, may decline in the next few months, partly because of promotions by manufacturers and consumer groups, Boyle says.

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“I knew I was an unwanted baby when I saw my bath toys were a toaster and a radio.”

--Joan Rivers


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