Heading off trouble

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Scott Nicewarner and Jake Williams plan on taking advantage of time off for summer vacation by riding their bikes every day.

A chance for fun and excitement, perhaps, but also a risk. Neither child wears a helmet while riding their bikes.

"They don't look good," Scott said. "Plus, I don't crash, so I don't need one."

Jake agreed that helmets just are not a "cool" accessory, but that isn't his only reason for not wearing one.

"Whenever I have worn one, it doesn't fit right anyway," Jake said.

This is a common problem, said Heidi Crowden, coordinator of the Cape Girardeau SAFE KIDS Coalition. Many bike helmets are not properly fitted, and that leads children to wear helmets tilted to one side or without strapping it under their chin.

Helmets worn correctly should fit firmly on the center of the head and not be able to rock back and forth or from side to side, Crowden explained. Also, the helmet should be strapped tight enough so only one or two fingers fit in between the strap and the chin.

Crowden said that any child who comes into Southeast Missouri Hospital with a bike-related injury leaves with a properly fitted helmet.

The Cape Girardeau and Jackson police departments also help in teaching children about bike safety and the importance of wearing helmets.

The Cape Girardeau Police Department is asked regularly to talk to students at day cares and summer schools about bike safety, Sgt. Rick Schmidt said. Earlier this month, the police department held Bike Smart at the Southeast Missouri Hospital parking garage. The event was open to first- through third-grade students in public and parochial schools.

"We had helmet fittings, bike repairs and a lecture on safety in the morning," Schmidt said. "Then we took them through a confidence/obstacle course in the afternoon. It was a day of fun and learning."

Jackson police chief James Humphreys said that in Jackson, many children ride bikes on the streets in their neighborhoods, so the police department tries to teach them about safety and the rules of the road.

"We usually go to Safety City during the summer," Humphreys said about the mock city in the Jackson park. "We talk to them about bikes and the importance of wearing helmets."

However, many children still are not taking the necessary safety precautions. According to "Headed for Injury," a recent study conducted by the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, only 41 percent of children observed while riding bikes, scooters, skateboards or inline skates wore helmets.

When she visits area schools, Crowden said, she, too finds that many children are not wearing helmets.

"Almost every hand in the room is raised when I ask if they have a bike or scooter," Crowden said. "The number of hands start dwindling when I ask if they have helmets until there are only one or two hands left when I ask who wears helmets all the time."

The need to wear helmets and other protective equipment is necessary, Crowden said, due to the risk involved in riding bikes.

According to the study, head injuries make up 47 percent of all bicycle-related injuries, and helmets can reduce the risk of head injuries up to 88 percent, but only 19 states have mandatory helmet laws. Missouri is not one of them.

While bikes can be dangerous for children, Crowden said they can also be very beneficial.

"They help children so much with hand-eye coordination and balance," Crowden said. "But I don't think of them as toys. They are vehicles, and children need to know and obey the rules of the road before riding on them."

jwachter@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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