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October 5, 2012

Parents urged to make sure young bicyclists wear helmets

Nothing seems more natural than a kid on a bicycle, but most parents find it's easier to get their child to eat their broccoli than to wear a helmet when they ride.

But maybe parents should give up on the vegetables and spend their energy on the bike helmet since it could prevent a serious injury or even death. 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), head injury is the most common cause of death and serious disability from bicycle crashes. The best protection is the bicycle helmet.

However, few bicyclists wear helmets regularly, and children are less inclined to wear helmets than adults. National estimates of helmet use among children range from only 15 to 25 percent.

Proving helmets' effectiveness

Neurosurgeon Tobias Mattei, MD, and his research team at the Illinois Neurological Institute and Bradley University set out to prove a point. They tested how well helmets withstood forces of impact and crush tests when covering human cadaver skulls.

They found that wearing a helmet can reduce the acceleration experienced by the skull during an impact by up to 87 percent, and can aid the skull in resisting forces up to 470 pounds in a crush accident. In most crashes that's enough to result in only minor injury with a helmet. Without a helmet, it could be fatal.

The researchers filled a number of human cadaver skulls with BBs and resin cement to provide a uniform weight of four pounds. They used an apparatus that could test both impact and compression injuries.

The skull and helmet were released in free-fall from heights ranging from six to 48 inches, landing on a flat steel impact anvil. Unprotected skulls also were tested in falls from six and nine-inch heights.

Significant protection

Helmet use was found to reduce impact acceleration up to 87 percent at a drop height of six inches and more than 76 percent at a drop height of nine inches. In terms of real life effects, the tests show that wearing a helmet can reduce the force of a head impact during an accident occurring at 30 miles per hour to the force of a head impact occurring at seven miles per hour.

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