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from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

Diseases & Conditions



Staying Healthy

Helmet Safety

No matter what your age or level of experience, whenever you ride a bike, in-line skate, ski, or engage in other activities during which your head is vulnerable to injury, a helmet should be worn. In fact, many states now have laws that require helmet use.

Wearing a bike helmet reduces the risk of serious head and brain injury by 85%. Helmets should be worn during every ride, no matter how short. Many accidents happen near home.

Children younger than 12 years should also wear helmets when sledding.

Why Helmets Should Be Worn

In 2012, bike-related crashes killed 900 people and injured more than 532,000 others.

Cuts, bruises, and even broken bones will heal, but damage to your brain can be permanent. Even a low-speed fall can result in serious head injury. Many such disabling injuries can be prevented by wearing a helmet.

How Helmets Protect You

When you are wearing a helmet during a fall or crash, the force of impact is distributed over the surface of the helmet, rather than concentrated on the head. In addition, the thick plastic foam (firm polystyrene) inside the hard outer shell of a helmet provides protection that cushions the blow.

A new helmet should be purchased after a crash. Even if the helmet appears fine, the interior may be damaged.

Choosing a Helmet

Discount department stores and bicycle shops offer many models of helmets that are typically priced around $20 and up. Be sure to choose a helmet that meets the standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission or the Snell Memorial Foundation. These standards have been raised, so if you have an old helmet, it may be time to get a new one.

Take some time trying on helmets and choose one with the right size and fit. A helmet should be:

  • Snug. It does not slide from side-to-side or front-to-back.
  • Level. It is square on top of your head, covering the top of the forehead. It does not tilt in any direction.
  • Stable. The chinstrap keeps the helmet from rocking in any direction. Chinstraps should be replaced if any part of the buckle breaks. Otherwise, a helmet may fly off in an accident.

When buying a helmet for your child, be sure to choose a helmet that fits your child now, not one to grow into. Likewise, be sure to purchase a new helmet if the one you are currently using becomes too small for your growing child.

Many bike helmets are ventilated, lightweight, and come in a variety of colors. Choose a helmet that motorists will see.

Children and Helmets

Young children are particularly vulnerable to head injuries because they have proportionally larger heads and higher centers of gravity, and their coordination is not fully developed. It is more difficult for children to avoid obstacles when biking, sledding, in-line skating, skiing, or doing other activities.

Children 5 to 14 years of age have the highest injury rate of all bicycle riders, and bike accidents are a leading cause of death for children.

Tips to help children understand the importance of wearing helmets:

  • Teach by example. Adults should always wear helmets when doing activities that have potential for collision.
  • Be aware that your child is more likely to wear a helmet if he or she likes the way it looks.

Bike helmets save lives and prevent injuries, but in a few instances they are not appropriate:

  • Children should not wear helmets when they climb trees or play on playground equipment. A helmet may get stuck on a tree or piece of equipment and strangle a child.
  • Because a baby's neck muscles may not be strong enough to support a helmet, do not ride a bike at all with a child under the age of 1 year.

Ski Helmets

Head injuries can occur during skiing, and when they occur, they can be devastating. Helmets are sport-specific, so do not wear a bike helmet on the slopes. Ski helmets should be worn.

Statistical data in this article was reviewed by the AAOS Department of Research and Scientific Affairs.

Last Reviewed

January 2015

AAOS does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products, or physicians referenced herein. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific orthopaedic advice or assistance should consult his or her orthopaedic surgeon, or locate one in your area through the AAOS Find an Orthopaedist program on this website.