Why Not Wear A Bike Helmet?
Summary: Here are the kids' own reasons why they don't wear helmets.
This is an old survey. It was prepared by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the American Automobile Association in 1995. Some of the data has changed, including estimates of helmet effectiveness. Note that the kids were complaining about helmets made prior to that year, not necessarily today's models.
That was the opinion of more than two-thirds of 282 children, ages 8 to 13, as reported by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the American Automobile Association (AAA). The children took part in a project to find ways to encourage more kids to wear bicycle helmets.
Kids Speak Out on Bike Helmets
Each year, about 400,000 children under the age of 15 are treated in U.S. hospital
emergency rooms for bicycle-related injuries. An additional 300 children are
killed. Bicyclists ages 5 through 14 have among the highest injury rates of all
riders. About one-third of the injuries and two-thirds of the deaths are head-related.
Bike helmets can reduce the risk of brain injury or death by up to 85 percent [more recent estimates put this number at 66 to 88% reduction in the risk of head, brain and severe brain injury for all ages of bicyclists.]. Yet, only about 15 percent of all children nationally wear a helmet when they ride a bike.
To see if children had ideas about how to encourage More kids to wear bike-e
helmets, AAA developed and conducted self-administered questionnaires for-
schoolchildren and distributed these to selected AAA clubs in Pennsylvania,
Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio, New Mexico, New York, Nebraska, and Washington. The
AAA clubs administered the questionnaires to local schoolchildren.
AAA Provided CPSC access to the questionnaire responses. CPSC staff reviewed the
information and compiled this report.
More than half the children suggested redesigning the look of the bike helmet
as a way to increase helmet usage. In response to the question: "What one thing
would you change on bike helmets to get more kids to wear them?", the answers fell
into the following categories:
Improve the Look
Children disliked both the way bicycle helmets looked and how they,
themselves, appeared while wearing one, There were many comments like:
"They make you look (like a nerd, a geek, weird or dorky.)"
Many wanted to see helmets with "cooler' colors. Many also wanted to see
more interesting and varied designs on the helmets. Other specific comments
"Put baseball, football, and race drivers number and names on helmets."
"They could make ones where you could paint a design on your own helmet."
"Give them bills to keep the sun out of your eyes."
"Make them have pictures of our favorite television characters."
"Put little compartments on the helmets."
"Make helmets for girls with ponytails"
What children most disliked about bike helmets, however, was the fit. In
response to the question; "What do you dislike about bike helmets?", the answers
broke down into the following categories:
Improve the Fit
Many complained that bike helmets felt uncomfortable on the head. Many
disliked the chin strap. Others had problems with the inside of the helmet. Other
typical comments included:
"They make you sweat and are very tight"
"I dislike the buckle (of the strap) because sometimes I pinch myself."
"They are heavy and when you have a ponytail you can't wear them."
When asked specifically what they would change on bike helmets to persuade
more kids to wear one, many children suggested a softer and more comfortable
strap. A frequent comment:
"Make a strap that does not itch or hurt."
Other suggestions for improving the fit included:
"Make a lot of padding inside."
"Make them sweatproof."
A number of children had other ideas on how to encourage kids to wear bike
helmets. Many suggested using the mass media and/or role models. Typical
Improve the Marketing
"You could make a commercial with a famous person wearing a helmet and
kids could use them as role models."
"Show pros wearing helmets and being cool."
Others felt it was important to make sure kids understood the consequences of
riding a bike without a helmet, This could be done in a number of ways, including:
"You could show videos on how kids got hurt not wearing helmets."
"Have kids who wouldn't wear helmets and got in serious collisions go and talk
to other kids who won't wear helmets."
"Tell them to watch the hazards on the items of kids who don't wear a helmet."
Still others had specific suggestions or, how retailers or local communities could
Encourage children to wear bike helmets. These included:
"You could sell (bike helmets) for only S5.00 to sell more of them."
"I would throw in a water bottle (if you buy a helmet)."
"If You wear one, you got a free pizza."
"You could have a bike-a-thon to encourage kids to wear bike helmets."
Finally, a number of children stated flatly that there was only one real way to
get more kids to wear bike helmets. Their response: "Make it the law."
Many children indicated that they understood the importance of wearing a bike
helmet. When asked what would happen if they had a bike crash and were not
wearing a helmet, a comment that typified many was: "You could be paralyzed,
killed, or you could suffer brain damage."
Wearing a Bike Helmet
This knowledge may have prompted those surveyed here to wear bike helmets
at rates higher than the national average. When asked how often they wore a bike
helmet, the children responded:
In a national survey of bicycle riders (children and adults) conducted for CPSC
in 1992 (Rodgers, 1994), 17.6% of the respondents indicated they wore helmets all
or most of the time. (This is in contrast to a smaller survey of fourth and fifth
graders in Eau Claire, Wisconsin (1992) where 64% of the students who owned bike
helmets reported wearing a helmet every time or almost every time they rode a
Still, more than half of the children surveyed here did not wear bike helmets
most of the time. This leaves many children vulnerable to head injuries.
Increasing the number of children who wear bike helmets could greatly reduce
injuries and deaths from bicycle-related accidents, Parental supervision and
Community laws requiring bike helmets are some traditional ways to promote bike
helmet use. But, according to the children in this survey, improving the fit and look
of bicycle helmets could also increase helmet usage. As children become more
Independent, around the fourth or fifth grade, they are more likely to put or keep
on bike helmets if the helmets are comfortable- As these children become more
peer-oriented, they also are more sensitive to wearing a helmet that looks "cool.' As
many children noted here, too, encouraging role models -- such as sports or movie
personalities -- to wear these helmets could only enhance the appeal of bike
By acting on the sentiments of children like those surveyed here, bike helmet
manufacturers, retailers, and advertisers may have significant marketing
opportunities. While some helmet variety -- in terms of colors and fit -- already
exists, there is clearly a universe of children (and their parents) who would welcome
more innovations in the design and promotion of bike helmets.
Eau Claire Police Department, WI (1992), 'Bike Helmets. A Study of Their Use by
Children of the Eau Claire Area.' Eau Claire Police Department.
Rodgers, Gregory B., et. al. (1994). "Bicycle Use and Hazard Patterns in the United
States.' U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Washington, DC.
Note:This survey was accompanied by a pamphlet and a joint CPSC-AAA press release. We don't find them online any more.