Most U.S. Kids Bike Ride with Bare Heads: Study
Thu May 2, 5:51 PM ET
By Todd Zwillich

WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) - Less than half of all US kids wear helmets each time they ride a bicycle, and only one-third wear them while using in-line skates or scooters, according to a national survey released Thursday.


The figures show that large numbers of children are continually at risk for traumatic brain injuries, experts said. Forty-seven percent of bicycle-related hospitalizations among children under 14 years were blamed on brain trauma, according to a companion analysis of 3,700 hospital admissions between 1994 and 2001.

The survey, released by the National Safe Kids Campaign, polled 332 children between 8 and 12 years old. Nearly half said that they don't regularly wear helmets because they only ride their bicycles close to home. Twenty-eight percent said they "don't feel cool" wearing a helmet and 27% said they don't wear a helmet "because my parents don't make me."

The risk of brain injury is highest in older children aged 10 to 14 because they are less likely to wear protective head gear and more likely to take risks, said former US Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop.

An estimated 9,000 US children were hospitalized after bicycle accidents in 2000, Koop said. Hospitalization data for scooter and in-line skating injuries are not available, campaign representatives said.

Sixty-three percent of all kids surveyed in the poll said that they consider it unlikely that they could hurt their heads while riding. The survey was conducted by Harris Interactive in February 2002.

Kids also pegged their parents as a major influence on their desire to don helmets. More than half surveyed said they would wear protective gear if their parents had a rule requiring it.

Regular helmet use has been found to cut the risk of brain injury during a bike accident by 88%, Koop said. Still, he stressed, parents are not doing enough to set strict helmet rules for their children.

"I don't think we can have any more excuses from you, parents," he said. "If they don't wear (a helmet), they don't ride."

Koop, who chairs the National Safe Kids Campaign, also said that widespread promotion of voluntary helmet use and stricter bicycle helmet laws are both key to reducing the number of brain injuries children sustain while biking. The organization is using industry funds to buy television ads encouraging kids to always wear helmets when biking or skating.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia currently have bike helmet laws. Eighty-four US localities have ordinances requiring helmet use, according to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, a nonprofit group based in Virginia.

Dr. Martin R. Eichelberger, a Washington-based pediatric trauma surgeon and president of the campaign, urged parents to view brain injury as a disease their kids could get.

"We have a vaccine, and that vaccine is prevention," Eichelberg