It's only natural to want the best when it comes to safety gear for your child -- after all, Seattle Children's Hospital estimates that a proper helmet reduces the risk of bike-related head injury by 85 percent. Whether wearing a helmet is the law or your personal safety precaution, the safest children's bike helmets are the ones that are fitted, worn and replaced properly for the most protection.
Fit is one of the most important components of helmet safety. Your child could be wearing the best and most sophisticated helmet made, but if it doesn't fit properly, the helmet can't protect properly. Help your child try on a variety of helmets. The safest helmet is one that sits level on the head, with the front of the helmet ending two finger widths above the eyebrow. The straps should be even and lay flat against your child's head, while the buckles should be fastened tightly enough that you can fit one finger in between your child's chin and the straps.
Although you may be tempted to use an all-purpose helmet for all of your child's activities -- wearing a motorsport or hockey helmet instead of a bike-specific helmet, for example -- check to make sure that your child's helmet information specifically states that the helmet has been tested for multiple sports, cycling being one of the tested and approved sports. Bike crashes typically involve head-first falls, warns the American Academy of Pediatrics. If a helmet hasn't been tested specifically, it's not safe, even if it works for other activities.
Buying a safe helmet for your child isn't a "one-and-done" deal. As your child wears, transports and stores the helmet, it can become weaker. Similarly, if your child has experienced a fall, it can create cracks and dents in the outer material of the helmet, making it no longer safe. Look for other signs of wear, such as fraying straps or chipped polystyrene. Although both hard shell and soft shell helmets are safe and approved by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, hard shell helmets usually last longer. When a helmet begins to show signs of wear, it may not be as safe as one in better shape. Helmets that are damaged or too small for your child should be replaced.
The CPSC mandated industry-wide standards for bike helmets in February 1999. Although all helmets manufactured and sold in the United States after that point should meet CPSC standards, always check for the CPSC seal or logo on the helmet information and materials. Be wary of purchasing helmets overseas, where safety and manufacturing regulations may not be as stringent. A safe helmet is one that is built, tested and manufactured according to strict regulations.