Nothing seems more natural than a kid on a bicycle, but most parents find it's easier to get their child to eat their broccoli than to wear a helmet when they ride.
But maybe parents should give up on the vegetables and spend their energy on the bike helmet since it could prevent a serious injury or even death.Â
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), head injury is the most common cause of death and serious disability from bicycle crashes. The best protection is the bicycle helmet.
However, few bicyclists wear helmets regularly, and children are less inclined to wear helmets than adults. National estimates of helmet use among children range from only 15 to 25 percent.
Proving helmets' effectiveness
Neurosurgeon Tobias Mattei, MD, and his research team at the Illinois Neurological Institute and Bradley University set out to prove a point. They tested how well helmets withstood forces of impact and crush tests when covering human cadaver skulls.
They found that wearing a helmet can reduce the acceleration experienced by the skull during an impact by up to 87 percent, and can aid the skull in resisting forces up to 470 pounds in a crush accident. In most crashes that's enough to result in only minor injury with a helmet. Without a helmet, it could be fatal.
The researchers filled a number of human cadaver skulls with BBs and resin cement to provide a uniform weight of four pounds. They used an apparatus that could test both impact and compression injuries.
The skull and helmet were released in free-fall from heights ranging from six to 48 inches, landing on a flat steel impact anvil. Unprotected skulls also were tested in falls from six and nine-inch heights.
Helmet use was found to reduce impact acceleration up to 87 percent at a drop height of six inches and more than 76 percent at a drop height of nine inches. In terms of real life effects, the tests show that wearing a helmet can reduce the force of a head impact during an accident occurring at 30 miles per hour to the force of a head impact occurring at seven miles per hour.
Compression injuries in bicycle accidents do not occur as often as impact injuries, but they can be devastating, the researchers say. They demonstrated that by using a pneumatic air cylinder.
Together the skull and helmet were placed on their sides on a platform underneath the pneumatic cylinder, and the cylinder was set at various loads of compression to identify the maximum load that could be sustained without damaging the skull. The test was repeated using the skull without a helmet and again using the helmet alone.
Standing up to 470 pounds
The helmeted skull was able to withstand a 470-pound force; the helmet alone displayed initial cracking at 100 to 200 pounds of force. Needless to say, disastrous consequences occur when that happens.
ed when the unprotected skull was subjected to a high compression load.
Based on the test results, Dr. Mattei, the lead author of this study, offers this advice to parents sending their children out to play on bicycles:
"Parents must be aware that it is their responsibility to provide and assure that all available safety measures are taken when allowing their children to participate in any kind of social activity or sport," Mattei said. "Bicycling is not different."
The best way to teach, he says, is by example. He suggests parents go bicycling with their children, making sure everyone -- adults and children -- is wearing a helmet.