Although bicycle helmets have been shown to reduce the risk of head and brain injury by almost 90 percent, only an estimated 15 percent of kids age 14 and under actually wear them. Bicycles are associated with more childhood injuries than any other consumer product, except the automobile, according to the National Safe Kids Campaign, in Washington, DC. "Kids can get bad cuts and bruises, broken bones, and severe internal injuries from bike accidents," says Joan Shook, M.D., chief of pediatric emergency medicine at Texas Children's Hospital, in Houston. "But it's the head injuries doctors worry about the most -- they're the hardest to treat. That's why parents have got to stand firm and insist that a helmet be worn for biking, as well as for skiing, horseback riding, skateboarding, and sledding."
As the parent of three young children, Dr. Shook knows how difficult it can be to argue constantly with your kids about safety. But she has also seen the aftermath when tragedy strikes. "Last week, a nine-year-old boy was brought in who was hit by a car while riding a bike," Dr. Shook recalls. "He ended up with inoperable brain damage and will be in a persistent vegetative state for the rest of his life. His mom kept saying, ‘But he has a helmet,' and all I could think was, He wasn't wearing it when he should have been." If he had, says Dr. Shook, it's likely that the boy would have ended up with just lacerations, bruises, and other treatable injuries.