Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute

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Study Finds That Bicycle
Helmets Do Not Fit Well

Summary: A study by pediatricians in Falmouth, Massachusetts, tested the ability of kids and parents to fit bicycle helmets. It concluded that most did not fit them well.

A group of pediatricians in Falmouth, MA, wanted to investigate how well their patients were fitting their helmets. The investigators asked patients to bring in the child's helmet, and supplied a helmet if the patient forgot. The child or parent then fitted the helmet if it was a loaner, choosing one that was closest to the one they had at home (Alpha, Bell, Louis Garneau or Seattle Bike). Then the researchers assessed the helmet's condition and fit.

The results were dismal, with only 4 per cent passing the study's standard, and a full 96 per cent failing somewhere along the way. But going beyond fit, the investigators' 14 criteria included the condition of the helmet, and only 55 per cent passed that section of the assessment. Their strap tightness criteria required the helmet to pull down (no distance specified) in front when the mouth was opened. Perhaps a more realistic number for bad fit comes from the percentage of helmets that passed the basic stability tests for one inch of maximum movement: front to back (52 per cent -- we would have guessed even lower) and side to side (73 per cent). Even if you find some of their criteria too stringent, a full 80 per cent failed the basic stability part of the assessment. That corresponds to what we hear from the field from bike rodeo fitters and others who deal with kids who come to events with badly fitted helmets or helmets in poor condition.

We welcome this study, documenting how difficult it is to fit a bicycle helmet. Fit is indeed a problem for all ages, not just for kids. We have been pushing it as the next frontier in helmet safety. One of our warnings is that it will take you longer than you think to fit a helmet well, so we would expect that the 44 per cent who did not bring their own helmets in would probably not take enough time while fitting in a doctors office. (The study comments only on how much time it took the doctors--patients were allowed as much time as they wanted.) But wherever the fitting is done, most parents and kids quit trying to improve the fit long before the job is really done well. We have a page up on fitting helmets, of course.

Ultimately we think the responsibility for helmets that are too hard to fit rests with the manufacturer, since 80 per cent or more of the buyers can't be wrong! We consumers need auto-fit helmet technology, but we don't have it yet. So the alternative is to learn how to fit your helmet and take the time to get it right. It is a survival skill in our culture well worth mastering. Otherwise you are not getting all the protection you paid for.

The study is titled "Bicycle Helmet Assessment During Well Visits Reveals Severe Shortcomings in Condition and Fit" by Gregory W. Parkinson, MD, FAAP and Kelly E. Hike, BA. It appeared in The Journal of Pediatrics. Vol. 112, No. 2, August 2003, pp. 320-323.