Why You Should Wear a Bike Helmet and Tips on Buying The Right Helmet

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Why Wear A Bike Helmet?

A lot of people in Washington state ride a bicycle for exercise, transportation, or simple recreational enjoyment. Some even know Redmond as the “Bicycle Capital of the Northwest.” But bicyclists should always take the proper safety precautions to reduce the risk of injury. Unfortunately, not enough people wear helmets when riding.

A survey conducted between 2001 and 2003 and published in 2010 in the Journal of Safety Research found that only 48 percent of children ages 5 through 14 wear a bike helmet while riding. Older children may be even less likely to wear a helmet. So why wear a bike helmet? Read on for eight good reasons.

1. Head Injuries are a Major Cause of Injury for Bicyclists

Do helmets prevent brain injury?  About 26,000 children and adolescents each year suffer traumatic brain injuries that require emergency department treatment in bicycle accidents. A 1989 study in Seattle published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that use of a helmet can reduce the risk of head injury by 74 to 85 percent. Not wearing a helmet could put you at risk of injury.

2. Wearing a Helmet Increases Visibility

Not only can a helmet protect your head in the event of an accident, but a helmet also can reduce the risk of an accident by making cyclists more visible to motorists on the road. When choosing a helmet, opt for a bright color that’s easy to see. Some come with reflective material.

3. Helmet Use is the Law in Redmond

While there is no state law that requires helmet use in Washington, many cities and counties have passed laws requiring the use of a helmet while bicycling. King County – which includes Redmond – requires bicyclists of all ages to wear a helmet.

4. Helmets Can Provide Sun Protection

A helmet with a visor can provide protection from the sun’s harmful rays. By keeping the sun out of your face and eyes, you can reduce your risk of sunburn and improve your ability to see what’s happening around you.

5. Wearing a Helmet Sets an Example for Others

Wearing a helmet yourself is a good way to encourage helmet use by your children, as well as others who might see your example. Some children might rebel if they’re the only ones required to wear the helmet when going for a ride.

6. A Helmet Can be a Fashion Statement

Helmets these days can be custom made to come in just about every color, pattern and design imaginable. If a boring black or white helmet doesn’t really excite you, choose a helmet that better fits your personality or have one customized with your favorite graphic or image. But always make sure it meets safety standards.

7. A Helmet Offers Weather Protection

At the very least, a helmet can improve your comfort when poor weather strikes. In rain, snow or hail, a helmet can help to keep your head dry and assist in keeping moisture off of your face and out of your eyes, especially if it has a visor. If you ride in the winter, you can even purchase a helmet manufactured to help keep you warm.

8. A Head Injury Can Change Your Life

Head injuries can result in complications including impaired cognitive function, communication problems and problems with physical functions, such as fine motor skills and coordination. If you want to protect your brain and your future, wear a helmet. If that doesn’t answer the question, "Why wear a helmet?" nothing will.

How do I choose a bike helmet? 

Many people across Washington state take up biking for its environmental and health benefits. While biking is a beneficial activity, it can be dangerous if cyclists don't protect themselves with a helmet. Helmets reduce the risk of head injury and come in many different types. Consider these tips when you’re buying a bicycle helmet to help you find one that’s right for you.

Make Sure It Meets Consumer Product Safety Commission Standards

All helmets need to meet Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) standards. The CPSC tests helmets in four categories to make sure they meet acceptable levels of performance.

Those categories measure:

the impact the helmet has on peripheral vision;
its stability on the head;
its strength to stay on the head; and
the attenuation effect it has to head trauma.

Cyclists can check for the CPSC sticker on the helmet to make sure it's certified. The Snell Foundation also offers certification for bicycle helmets. Their tests measure the CPSC's four categories but include the extent of head protection as well.

How important is MIPS in a bike helmet?

MIPS stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System. MIPS was designed to reduce rotational forces on the brain that can be caused by an angled impact to the head. MIPS was designed by scientists and brain surgeons to act as a slip-plane technology that acts like the brain’s own protection system. The goal of MIPS is to reduce the severity of brain injury in the event of an accident. 

MIPS stands for multi directional impact protection system. MIPS was designed to reduce rotational forces on the brain that can be caused by an angled impact to the head. MIPS was designed by scientists and brain surgeons to act as a slip plane technology that mimics the brain’s own protection

What is the lifespan of a bike helmet? 

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends that you replace your bike helmet every 5 to 10 years. A good bike helmet can last you longer than 5 to 10 years, but regardless of the age of your helmet, you should replace your helmet if you have experienced any of the following:

  • Replace your helmet if you had a crash.  The foam inside a helmet is made for one-time use only, so after a crash it is not as protective. Look for cracks in the foam of your helmet.  If you see any it is best to replace the entire helmet. 
  • If it is from the 1970s.  These helmets do not have the protection that our current day helmets have. It is best just to replace it. 
  • If the outside of the helmet is made of just foam or cloth instead of plastic. 
  • It does not have a CPSC, ASTM or Snell sticker inside the helmet.  These stickers indicate that the helmet meets today’s standard for protection and safety.
  • If you cannot adjust your helmet to fit correctly.  The helmet does no good if it is not securely strapped on your head. If this is the case, it is time to get a new helmet.     

Why do helmets expire?

Helmets deteriorate over time and a lot of that depends on how often you use it and the type of care taken with it. Sunlight can also cause the shell of your helmet to deteriorate. If you see any signs of cracking or fading, you may consider replacing your helmet. 

Consider the Type of Helmet You Need

Bike helmets come in a few different types. Sport helmets are good for all around riding, while road helmets are sleeker, weigh less and have more vents. These are made for people riding fast road bikes. Mountain bike helmets may have a visor, additional protection in the rear and a stronger chin strap.

When you’re shopping around for a helmet, consider the type of biking you’ll be doing and choose a helmet that suits those needs.

Consider Available Features

Riders can also look at the features of the helmet to make a decision when buying a bicycle helmet. Some helmets come with more ventilation than others or weigh less. Helmets can also come with a visor or hair port (for people with ponytails). Whatever the features, though, make sure it meets the safety standards mentioned above.

Always Use the Helmet Properly

No matter the helmet, it's important that a cyclist use it properly. The internal ring should fit snugly around the head without being uncomfortable, and the chin straps should also fit snugly without causing discomfort. This helps the helmet dissipate force in the event of a head injury.

Bicycle Helmets and the Law

Washington does not have a state law requiring cyclists wear a helmet, but King County, which includes Bellevue, does have such a law. In addition to the possible fines, not wearing a helmet can reduce a rider's legal right to compensation after an accident. Violating the helmet ordinance might be evidence of negligence.

If the bicyclist files a claim or lawsuit against an at-fault motorist, for example, then the bicyclist’s decision not to wear a helmet could increase his or her comparative negligence. This might apply if the rider suffered a head injury because the helmet may have prevented or reduced severity of the injury.

Max Meyers Law PLLC is prepared to help riders assert their rights after they've been in an accident. If you’ve been in a bicycle accident that another party caused, seek the help of an attorney. At Max Meyers Law, PLLC, our attorneys provide the legal help you need to recover damages. Contact us today at 425-399-7000 to get started. 

Max Meyers
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Max is a Kirkland personal injury attorney handling cases in Seattle, King County & surrounding in WA State.