A bike-rider must wear a helmet when they’re on the road – and they should wear one wherever they’re riding.

Getting kids into cycling early is a great way of introducing them to a life-long healthy outdoor activity. But making sure they’re wearing a correctly fitting helmet is a vital part of safe cycling. Most serious injuries in bike crashes are from head or brain injuries. The solution is simple: always wear a bike helmet.

Helmets reduce risk

There’s evidence from ACC statistics that bike helmets do reduce the risk of serious head injury. The average cost of cycling or mountain-biking ACC claims for 10 to 14-year-olds is a relatively low $310 per claim. This suggests most injuries for this group of young riders are likely to be single medical treatments rather than continuing treatment and care from more serious injuries.

Always make sure the kids are wearing a bike helmet and not a skateboard, roller blade or scooter helmet which aren’t designed for cycling on the road.
Always make sure the kids are wearing a bike helmet and not a skateboard, roller blade or scooter helmet which aren’t designed for cycling on the road.

How well the helmet fits is crucial. Your child might come out OK from an accident if they’re wearing a badly fitting helmet. But it’s the worst-case scenario that you need to worry about. In some types of accidents – such as when the helmet catches on something – a badly fitting helmet can cause serious harm.

Always make sure the kids are wearing a bike helmet and not a skateboard, roller blade or scooter helmet which aren’t designed for cycling on the road.

The perfect fit

Everyone’s head is a slightly different shape and helmets themselves have different internal shapes. So there are two key steps in getting a perfect fit:

  • Buy a helmet that’s well matched to your child’s head shape. When the helmet isn’t a good match they’re more likely not to wear it at all, wear it the wrong way, or take it off whenever they get the chance. Getting this first step right makes the second step much easier.
  • Use the pads, chin straps, and the tensioner around the back of the helmet (if there is one) to make the helmet fit properly.

Setting the standard

You obviously want your kids’ helmets to be well designed and constructed. This is where the various international standards for bike helmets come in. For a helmet to be legal for use on the road here, it has to meet one of 5 different standards. It also must have a label or sticker inside it, showing which standard it complies with.

4 of the standards labels or stickers follow a standardised format (see examples below). The fifth one may just state that the helmet meets the US Consumer Product Safety Commission's bicycle helmet safety standard.

Non-compliant bike helmets are rare. You’re unlikely to find one in a bike shop – but you might on the internet. Don’t buy a helmet that can’t be tried first to see how it fits.

Watch for wear and tear

If the outer shell or polystyrene inner of a helmet is damaged, the helmet’s safety may be seriously reduced. Even minor damage on the surface of a helmet can signal bigger problems in the structure underneath.

  • Regularly check your children’s helmets to make sure they’re in good condition and still fit them. If they’re not, replace them.
  • Even if there’s no major damage, children’s helmets should be replaced every couple of years – that’s because children are much harder on them than adults.
  • The impact-absorbing design of modern helmets means they’re effectively “used up” in a serious crash. Any helmet that has been in a serious crash or taken a significant impact should be thrown away and replaced, even if you can’t see any obvious damage.

Look for some of the better brands of helmet that come with crash-replacement schemes. These give you a significant discount on the cost of replacing a helmet after a crash. You’re more likely to find better helmet brands – as well as getting experienced advice about helmet sizing and fit – at a dedicated bike shop.

Don’t buy second-hand

Never buy a used helmet. It’s just not worth the risk: you don’t know the helmet’s history and it may have invisible cracks or damage. What’s more, good-quality new helmets aren’t that expensive.

Get the poster

For more useful information about how to fit a helmet properly and bike-helmet standards download a copy of our free poster (2.05 MB).