New bicycle helmets promise better fit

Associated Press Writer

BERKELEY, Calif. ” Just about every parent who’s buckled a bicycle helmet onto a squirming kid’s head has wondered: Is this on right? A new self-adjusting helmet aims to solve that dilemma.

“If you drive by any school you can find false fits all over the place,” said Candi Whitsel, vice president of Santa Cruz-based Bell Sports, which launched its new True Fit helmets, Monday. “It’s a really serious problem that we said we need to come up with a solution for and that’s how True Fit came to be.”

The new design was inspired by research, funded partly by Bell, conducted in 2003 by the nonprofit group Safe Kids Worldwide, which among other things promotes bike safety. Researchers found that more than half of children surveyed at sites such as playgrounds and bike paths in 46 states and the District of Columbia weren’t wearing a helmet at all. Of those who were, more than a third had some sort of a fit problem, including helmets worn too loose or sitting too far forward or back.

The new helmets come with a band in the back that fits over the occipital lobe (the bumpy part in the back of the head) and is elasticized so it adjusts. According to the manufacturer, that makes for a snugger, more correct fit.

Meanwhile, the triangle-shaped webbing at the sides that connects to the chin strap is fixed, not adjustable as in the past, which is intended to cut down on the amount of consumer effort involved. The only adjustment that needs to be made is the length of the chin strap.

The helmets come in four sizes, toddler, child, youth and adult, cost between $17 and $26 and are available at stores including Wal-Mart, Target and Toys R Us.

Since the helmets are new, there aren’t data available on their real-world performance.

But Alan Korn, director of public policy for Safe Kids, said he’s pleased to see the move toward an easier-to-wear model.

About 135 children die in bicycle crashes annually and another 267,000 are injured, Korn said. Scrapes and even broken bones generally heal, but if someone falls off without a helmet or a poorly fitted one that leaves the forehead or back of the head exposed, there’s the potential for serious head injury that may not heal, he said.

“Anything that makes it easier for a parent or a child to put on or use a safety device all the time is a worthwhile effort,” he said. “These are preventable injuries.”

Fit is “the next frontier in helmet safety,” agreed Randy Swart, director of the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute based in Arlington, Va. Swart has not seen the True Fit helmets so could not comment on whether they’re an improvement.

“We’ve been asking manufacturers for years to give us a self-fitting system,” he said. “If this turns out to be that, then it will be a welcome development.”

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