Spring means an increase in people walking, riding bikes, or just out enjoying the freshness of the air and warmer weather. This also bring out the bicycles and the need to once again visit about bicycle safety, which includes wearing helmets.

More than 60 percent of deaths attributed to bicycle accidents are attributed to head injuries. Younger children can be particularly vulnerable; statistics indicate that many children ages 14 and under died from injuries sustained in bicycle accidents.

Safety experts suggest that as many as 75 percent of the bicycle-related fatalities involving children could be prevented with a bicycle helmet. A head injury can be devastating. It can cause death, but also may cause lifetime disability.

The benefits from bicycling healthful physical activity, companionship and low-cost transportation can be an important part of growing-up years. The activity also can be enjoyed by parents and children together. Some tips to help you be smarter on your bicycle:

Consider a helmet a necessity, rather than an extra. Without a helmet, riders who sustain an injury are 14 times more likely to become a fatality.

Choose a helmet that is specifically designed for bicycling, rather than a multi-sports helmet.

Choose a helmet that meets or exceeds safety standards established by the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Choose a helmet that fits, rather than one a child will grow into. To adjust fit, adjust sponge pads that are provided with the helmet: A helmet should fit snugly, moving only one inch when pushed either to the front or back. The front edge of the helmet should fit two finger widths above the eyebrows; front and back straps should form a "V" just below the ear.

If a helmet tilts forward, adjust the rear straps; if a helmet tilts backward, the front straps may need to be tightened. When the chin strap is buckled, all straps should be equally tight. To test fit, place one finger between the chin and the chin strap: when the child's mouth is opened, the strap should fit snugly, but comfortably.

If an accident occurs or if a helmet is badly jarred or cracked, replacing it is recommended.

Helmets can be purchased for as little as $20. Each dollar invested in a helmet is expected to save $30 in direct medical costs and other injury-related costs, such as long-term medical care.

Helmets are recommended for all riders, regardless of age.

In addition to a helmet, follow the rules of the road: ride with the traffic, rather than facing the traffic (recommended for walkers); ride in a bicycle lane or next to the curb; obey traffic signals; practice defensive-driving or riding and stay alert and keep your mind on your riding. Remember also that bicycles are prohibited on some roadways and, in some cities and towns, from some sidewalks.

Eighty percent of bicycle-related fatalities are associated with rider behavior, such as running a stop sign or swerving in traffic.

When is a child old enough to ride in the street rather than on the sidewalk? There isn't a one-size-fits-all age. A child's maturity level is a factor; so is the size of the community, traffic patterns and congestion in a residential area versus a business district.

A smaller community can seem peaceful and safe, but may have periods when safety is compromised: after a ball game or community festival or during harvest might be examples.

Periodic bicycle maintenance — lubrication, checking tire pressure and condition, brakes, pedals, lights or reflectors — also is recommended.

Please, enjoy the outdoors and get active. But, do so in a safe manner for yourself and your family. More information on bicycle safety is available at the McPherson County K-State Research and Extension Office.


Jana McKinney is a McPherson County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences.