should my child wear a bike helmet?

In writing this article we risk dividing parents, safety experts, cyclists, non-cyclists and everyone else.  Whether or not to wear a helmet as an adult is a hot topic, and emotions run very high whenever it is mentioned.  Add kids safety into the mix, and it gets extremely contentious.  But, there really is no simple right or wrong answer to the question "should my child wear a bike helmet?"

Should my child wear a bike helmet?Many column inches and website pages have been devoted to the question of whether cycle helmets improve safety or not. We do not intend to replicate them all here.

We believe that each parent must make the choice for their family as to whether or not helmet wearing is compulsory. We also believe you should be able to make an informed decision, with the full facts of the arguments both for and against.

Should my child wear a bike helmet?

As parents, we understand that sometimes, (only sometimes??) your darling offspring will not do as you want. If you decide that the answer to the question "should my child wear a bike helmet?" is "Yes", and junior will not comply, then you need to ask yourself how strict you will be in enforcing a 'no cycling' ban until they do.  It goes without saying you will need to be 100% compliant yourself.

A very brief summary of the pro's and con's of wearing a cycle helmet is given below, with details of where to go for more information.  We hope this helps you make an informed decision.

Please note, that if you live in a location outside the UK where helmet wearing is legally compulsory, then this article does not apply.

the argument for why kids should wear cycle helmets

  • Some evidence, used by the pro-helmet lobby, shows that helmets have  been effective in reducing potential injury to a young cyclist's head/brain in the event of a fall or impact with an object.
  • Brain injury is devastating and we believe it is not worth leaving it to chance - Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust
  • Helmets are best suited to providing protection during low speed impacts. As a child is learning to ride, this is precisely the type of fall they are likely to have

If you asked these people "should my child wear a bike helmet?" the answer would be a resounding "Yes!"

Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust
Royal Society for the Protection of Accidents (RoSPA)
Child Accident Prevention Trust
Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute

the argument against compulsory use of bike helmets

There is no law in the UK saying children, or anyone else for that matter, must wear a cycle helmet. There are numerous arguements about why it should not be necessary to wear a bike helmet:

  • Helmets are part of the culture of "cotton wool parenting", and this makes children believe cycling is a risky activity
  • Few people in The Netherlands, where cycling is a mainstream transport choice, wear a helmet
  • Rather than putting the emphasis on cyclists to protect themselves by wearing a helmet, our politicians and transport planners should be providing a cycling infrastructure that is safe for all to use
  • All evidence to support the pro-helmet lobby can be argued against, in terms of relevancy and accuracy
  • The benefits of cycling in terms of improved health and better life expectancy, out weigh the risks from not wearing a helmet
  • Risk compensation - riding a helmet may cause riskier behaviour, as the rider feels protected

If you asked the following group of people "should my child wear a bike helmet?" you'd get a more complex answer.  The links have much more information about the limited benefits of wearing cycle helmets, and right of individuals to make an informed decision about whether to use a bike helmet.

National Children's Bureau
CTC - The UK's national cyclists' organisation
Bicycle Helmet Reseach Foundation
Road Danger Reduction Forum
Cyclists Rights Action Group (Australian site)

Finally, for those of you who've inadvertently waded into this, and didn't realise what a contentious area it was, here are a few articles and threads to bring you up to speed:

Cycle helmets - a hard case to crack - BBC website
The helmet debate rumbles on in the mainstream media - Singletrack forum
Great Australian helmet debate continues to rage - road cc
Bike helmet call for cyclists triggers fierce web debate- thisisdorset

 Should my child wear a bike helmet? - the verdict

The answer to this question (if you live in the UK, or anywhere else where it isn't compulsory), is that the decision is entirely up to you.  The evidence for the pros and cons of wearing bike helmets is there for all to see.

"Should my child wear a bike helmet?" is just one of the many difficult questions we as parents face. Each of us will come to our own conclusion, for our own personal reasons.

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12 Comments

  1. Stacey says:

    I live in London wear I see many people biking and I mostly see helmets, now if that works for them that’s great. But I personally would prefer to not get in accident that to be protected when I get in one. I have 2 kids, a 15-year old daughter, and an 8-year old son. My 8 year-old son isn’t as good as a rider, so I make him wear his helmet. I worry about his spills. My daughter, however loves biking, she bikes so often, she hiked to school everyday. I never have to worry if she will fall off a bike. I started teaching her how to cycle with the road when she was about 10, I taught her how to be cautious, (we live in a very crowded part of London so that is very important) then when she was 12 years old she asked why I don’t wear a cycling helmet. I told her that I don’t know. She then asked if she has to wear one while she is bicycling. I thought about it for a second, I thought about how I feel when I’m biking and how I feel when I am forced to wear a bike helmet. I thought about how nobody cycles safer than her. But than I thought about safety, I thought about how if she were to get hit by a car that she may be safer if she had a bike helmet, that may be true. But than I thought if she is being hit by a car going 30 miles per hour what difference does it make if she were to be wearing a bike helmet. I said no, you do not need to wear one, but it makes your mom feel safer if you wear one. She then said than I would feel safer if you wore one, I then said well it’s my job to protect you. She then said “Mom, I’m going to go bike to get some tea, do I need to wear my bike helmet.” I thought about it and I said “ Of course not my dear.” Shocked by what I had just said “ she then came storming in and asked if she could throw her helmet away.” I told her if she wanted to I then saw her throw it away. And storm away on her bike going at least 10 miles per hour. Shocked by what I just said. She continued to ride her bike, and in 3 years we haven’t had a single safety issue. That my opinion on it.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Stacey - thanks for sharing. It's so important that kids learn about risk, and the various levels of risk. Some types of cycling are inherently risky for head injuries, and others aren't as risky. As you say, against a lorry or car, a helmet makes very little difference. In an ideal world there would be protected cycle ways everywhere, and the risk from any sort of injury when popping to the shops or cycling school would be incredibly low. Sadly, few kids are that lucky here in the UK.
      I try and teach my kids to know that when they are mountain biking, or doing fast road biking (we live in Cumbria, so can get up some very fast descents), or if they're at the track, they need to wear a helmet for safety reasons. The rest of the time, then, as you say, it's a decision based upon how confident they are on their bike. Interestingly when we went to Holland they asked if they could take their helmets off, as they felt so safe! Glad you've found a solution you're all happy with. Karen

  2. Dawn Matter says:

    My sons have all ridden bikes and motorbikes. When riding pushbikes I did ask them to wear helmets. One of them came off at low speed when crossing a wooden bridge that was wet - he suffered a very severe concussion. I took his cycle helmet to the hospital when I took him to the ED and the consultant said that if he had not been wearing it it would be his skull that was in two pieces and not just his bike helmet. As for the argument that a helmet is going to make little difference when hit by a car - well if I am going to bullseye a windscreen I would rather do it with a helmet on than without! I only have one brain and I know what it is like to recover from serious brain injury: I know which side of the argument I come down on!

  3. Stephen says:

    Hi looking for help and advice, 9 year old child will not wear a cycle helmet, complaining its uncomfortable, hurts,and not cool every time we go out I keep trying but won't wear it, just says your not wearing one, I am probably going to give up trying but I really would like it to be worn. Any advice.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Stephen - have you tried borrowing another helmet from a friend, or trying others on in your local bike shop? Each child has a different head shape and size, and if it doesn't fit properly it can be very uncomfortable (just like a badly fitting pair of shoes). Also, as with everything in life, if you want your child to do something, you usually need to do it to! Karen

  4. Stephen says:

    Hi Karen, thanks for the reply. Yes our local bicycle shop mersherd his head and fitted it properly. We both go cycling quite often on weekends and in the evening, but he just will not wear it and complains he feels stupid wearing one, I i spend so long trying to get him to wear it that I just give up and go with out it I really want him to be safe and wear it, what am I doing wrong? And what can I try next?

    • Karen says:

      Finding a group of kids to cycle with who all wear helmets may help (your local cycle club?). And always wear your helmet - if he sees you without it, then you stand no chance! At the end of the day, it's up to you to assess the level of risk he's facing, and whether you believe he should be wearing one or not, and whether he will be safer or not. Different types of cycling have different levels of risk - if he's mountain biking then the risk is entirely different to if he's riding gently around a park. If you really want him to wear one, then it's ultimately a choice of never riding his bike again, or wearing his helmet. Perhaps that would focus his mind (kids sense when they're going to win a battle and get parent to back down and can be very very trying!) Karen
      P.S. Can you get to the bottom of what's causing his dislike? There are different helmets out there - some are cool, others aren't!

      • Stephen says:

        Hi Karen, thanks for the reply, we both do all sorts of cycling together, had a chat this morning with him and it's manly the strap he doesn't like, and his friend does not have one, and I haven't got one as well, so what I was thinking is taking him and his friend to a different bike shop and they can both choose what ever they like I am paying for his friend's (you can't put a price on safety) and I will get one to then his friend and I will be wearing one as well, what do you think of that idea?? Please let me know thanks

        • Karen says:

          Hi Stephen - that sounds a sensible (and generous) idea. When he's trying on, it's probably best to get him to try on a couple of styles and ask him how it feels (out of earshot of the sales assistant) so you can be sure he's got one that's comfortable. Good luck! Karen

  5. Stephen says:

    Thanks for your reply, I will do that going in the morning, his friend and his mum is well up for it as he wants to wear one. Hopefully this will solve the problem as they go cycling together or the 3 of us go together, I will let you know how it goes, thanks for your help.

  6. Stephen says:

    Hello Karen up data for you,9 year old is now wearing his new helmet and keeping it on, every time he goes on his bike even when he goes round the corner to the shop,and he reminds me to wear mine. And he checks mine and his every time as the bike shop showed him the two finger above the eye, the straps make a 4 finger v, and he can only get his little finger between the strap and chin.He even gives it a little pull to check its tight He does this every time he puts it on, and he puts it on with out being told, please leave a good comment so I can show him. Thanks

    • Karen says:

      Hi Stephen - that's really good news! Tell him well done! Sounds like you found a good bike shop that explained everything well, and that the new helmet is comfy for him to wear. Hope you have many enjoyable bike rides this summer. Karen

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