Do Toddlers Need Bike Helmets while Riding?

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We all know to wear a helmet when road cycling or mountain biking. However, children who are just learning to ride a bike will be riding in much safer conditions and at slow speeds. Does that mean that a toddler does not need to wear a bike helmet? We will provide the answer to this and some advice on buying kids’ bike helmets in this article.

Regardless of age, everyone needs to wear a helmet while riding a bike. Unless you are extremely irresponsible, you are probably having your toddler ride somewhere safe like a park. Even then a helmet is necessary. You can never tell when an accident might occur. Wearing a helmet reduces the chance of a severe head injury by 63-88% for cyclists of all ages according to a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). Hence, your child must wear a helmet as well.

The importance of wearing a helmet

A bike helmet is designed to absorb the impact from a fall before it reaches the head. Multiple studies have shown that wearing a bike helmet drastically reduces the chance of head injury during a bike accident. Pediatrician and creator of the Facebook page PediMom, Dr. Free N. Hess says, “Helmets in this situation can make the difference between a simple concussion and severe neurological injury and even death”. The long-term effects of a head injury are well documented, and this can be especially harmful to children.

Kid’s bike helmet statistics

Despite the obvious safety benefits of a helmet, many people, including children, still do not wear a helmet while riding. The University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital carried out a nation-wide poll on parents. In it, only 59% of parents said that their child always wears a helmet when cycling. Meanwhile, 18% of parents (almost 1 in 5) reported that their kid never wears a helmet. The report also mentions that on average 600 kids are taken to an emergency room every day because of a bike-related injury. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, every year 26,000 children visit emergency rooms due to a brain injury after a cycling accident. Simply wearing a helmet can significantly bring down these numbers.

How to pick a helmet for your toddler

Before you buy a helmet for your child, there are some things that you should take into account. You cannot just buy any helmet for your child. Here is a quick guide to how you can make a well thought out decision when buying a helmet.

Helmet Size

A helmet will not provide effective protection if it does not fit well, especially if it is too large. During a fall, the helmet will simply fly off the head. On the other hand, a helmet that is too small will be uncomfortable and your kid will probably not want to wear it. Helmet sizes are given in terms of head circumference. Therefore, all you have to do is measure your toddler’s head circumference and buy according to that.

This can be easily done by wrapping a tape measure around the head about an inch above the eyebrows. Each helmet’s size is given as a range, e.g. 46-51 cm. Make sure that their head size falls into this range. Remember that the helmet should fit snugly and not move much when shaking the head. If you are buying a helmet as a gift for someone else’s child, then you could use the following chart to get an approximate idea of which size you should buy.

AgeHead circumference
Girl (cm)Boy (cm)Girl (inch)Boy (inch)
12 mo.4517.74618.1
18 mo.46.518.347.518.7
2 yr.4718.54818.9
2.5 yr.4818.94919.3
3 yr.4919.34919.3
3.5 yr.4919.35019.7
4 yr.49.519.550.519.9
4.5 yr.5019.75120.1
5 yr.5019.75120.1
6 yr.5120.15220.5
7 yr.5220.55320.9
8 yr.5320.95421.3
Kids Bike Helmet Sizing and Adjustment: 5 Easy Steps

Helmet Weight

The weight is important as it also affects the comfort level of the helmet. Generally, a lighter helmet is better since it will be more comfortable and easier to move around with. Toddlers have weak neck muscles and this makes them unable to support too much of a load on the head. Moreover, a child won’t notice a lightweight helmet and keep it on for longer periods of time.

Adjustability

Pretty much all helmets have a retention system that makes use of a turning dial to adjust the inner circumference. This ensures that the helmet fits properly and stays on. However, some retention dials can be hard to use and have poor quality. Be sure to check on it to see if it works well and is easy to use. Also, the helmet should have a good range of adjustability so that your kid does not outgrow the helmet too fast.

Straps and Buckle

The straps and buckle further secure the helmet in position. The straps should be made of a soft and comfortable fabric to not irritate a toddler’s sensitive skin. The buckle should be pinch-free and have a plastic guard so that it exerts less pressure. Higher-end helmets feature a magnetic buckling system which is safer and easier to use.

Safety Standards

All helmets sold in the U.S. are legally required to comply with safety standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). These certified helmets will have a CPSC sticker. Many helmets have an additional ASTM certification. Having either one makes a helmet safe enough for use. There are different safety standards in different countries. In Europe, all helmets have a CE marking while in Australia and New Zealand helmets have an AS/NZS sticker.

CPSC sticker

CPSC sticker

MIPS

MIPS is a relatively new technology and stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System. This is added as a slip plane that allows the helmet to slide a few millimeters independently of the head. With this mechanism, forces from an angled impact are absorbed, and there is no strain placed on the brain. This safety feature is very common nowadays and you should definitely get a MIPS-equipped helmet for your kid.

Additional features to look out for

Other than the ones we have mentioned, there are a few other features that will improve your kid’s riding experience. These include:-

  1. Visor: A visor adds a bit of convenience to the helmet. It offers some protection to the eyes from sunlight and also protects the face in case of a forward fall. Some helmets have fixed visors, some have removable visors while others do not have one at all.
  2. Ventilation: A helmet must have proper ventilation to allow airflow and keep the head cool. A helmet with too few vents can get really uncomfortable on a hot summer day.
  3. Reflectors/LEDs: This is a safety feature found in some helmets. Reflectors or LED lights make the helmet more visible to others on the road. This ensures that motorists and other cyclists are aware of your child.

How to ensure that your kid wears a helmet

We realize that it’s not always easy to get your child to wear something that they might not want to. In this case, a little bit of strictness is necessary. A good way is to develop the habit of wearing a helmet from their first ride. Even if your baby is still on a plush toy, you can make them wear a helmet to get them used to it. It is also crucial that you, as a parent, wear your own helmet every time you’re on a bike. Overall, it is important to make your child understand the importance of maintaining safety at all times while riding.

Kid on a bike

Kid on a bike

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. Are bike helmets legally required for kids?

Ans.: Bike helmet laws vary from country to country. Even within the U.S., it is different in individual states. Since these laws were initiated, 22 states have adopted some kind of helmet policy. Around 200 localities throughout the country have their own set of rules dictating the use of helmets, mainly for those under 18. The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute (BHSI) keeps an updated and comprehensive list on its website for different states and towns. You can check whether any of these apply to you. Besides, just because it is not illegal does not mean you should do it, especially when it concerns the well-being of your children.

Q2. Are bike trailers and bike seats safe?

Ans.: If you have to cycle with a baby passenger, then a bike trailer or a bike seat are your options. With either of them, your child will be secured enough with a seatbelt and a helmet. However, trailers are generally considered the safer choice since they are closer to the ground. As long as you are riding on pavement and flat pathways with low traffic, there isn’t much danger to your child.

Bike trailer

Bike trailer

Q3. When should a bike helmet be replaced?

Ans.: One of the most important rules of helmet use is that a helmet should always be replaced after it has been involved in a crash, or even if it has been dropped hard onto the pavement. All bike helmets are for one-time use only. When in doubt, you should swap it out. As your child gets older, you’ll have to keep checking the fit and size. Replace the helmet if your child has outgrown it. Also, it’s better to replace any helmet that is more than five years old. Over time, exposure to the elements causes the components inside to wear out.

➥ To know more, have a look at 4 ways of knowing when to replace your bike helmet.

Q4. Can my kid use other types of helmets for riding a bike?

Ans.: It is always a good idea to use a specific helmet for each sport. Mixing and matching helmets is not the best way to go. This is because each type of helmet is specially designed to meet the demands of a certain activity. There are also different safety standards for each type. A skateboard helmet for example can withstand multiple impacts as you will fall more, whereas a bike helmet can only take one. However, bike helmets are better ventilated since cycling is a more strenuous activity.

Conclusion

So the bottom line is that you should always make sure that your little one is wearing a helmet when riding a bike. When it comes to their safety, you should never compromise. It might be difficult to get them to wear a helmet in the first place. But starting early to build a habit and setting a good example will eventually get you there. Hopefully, you’ll never have to see the effectiveness of a bike helmet at work.

My name is Dion Lewis. I’ve been cycling since my childhood. When I was in high school, I started racing in our local competitions. In my college life, I took a part-time job in a bicycle shop and I learned how to repair and maintain bicycles professionally. Though I love racing, mountain biking is another thing I do frequently. My friends, neighbors, and colleagues treat me as an avid rider and take my suggestions while they plan for a new bike or bike gear.

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