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Finding the right fit

Helmet hair aside, if you plan to ride your bike, you should also plan to wear a helmet. A helmet is the single most effective way to prevent head injury resulting from a bicycle crash, according to the US Department of Transportation national highway safety administration.

And helmet use accounts for about an 85 percent reduction in the severity of injuries among kids aged 8-13 who report to the emergency room for bicycle-related injuries, says Jennifer Hillman, Cortland County Health Department health educator and coordinator of the department's injury prevention traffic safety program.

But did you know it's easy to wear a helmet incorrectly?

Hillman regularly distributes and fits bicycle helmets on the heads of people, finding common mistakes like loose helmets or helmets that are the wrong shape for the head they are on. That's why the county health department and youth bureau partner to run the injury prevention traffic safety program, with the youth bureau purchasing bicycle helmets for the public and the health department administering the program.

This means for a suggested $5 donation, people can get a helmet and Hillman will make sure that it is properly fitted.

Like she did recently for Jackie Leaf, Executive Director of Seven Valleys Health Coalition.

Hillman makes sure the helmet straps are fitted snugly under Leaf's chin. Too much of a gap means a loose helmet, which wouldn't protect the wearer in a crash, said Hillman.

There are a few things to remember when finding the right bicycle helmet, says Hillman.

First, the advertised age the helmet is geared for, doesn't matter. She's seen adults go home in youth helmets and youth fitted correctly to an adult helmet.

"You're not buying it based on the age, you're buying it based on how it fits," Hillman said.

Secondly, a properly fitted helmet lies snug against the skull- when you shake your head back and forth it won't wobble. Many helmets have dials at the back of their straps that you can adjust to make them looser or tighter.

Thirdly, the helmet needs to lie above your eyebrows, depending on the size of your forehead this could be a space large enough to fit one or two fingers, and it should be level to the ground. If you wear sunglasses you should get a pair small enough so that you can wear them without having to cock the helmet back, says Hillman.

These images show how an improperly worn helmet can result in a neck injury.

These images explain the importance of a properly fitted and positioned helmet.

The straps of a helmet should lie against the jawbone, then snugly fit under the chin. If you yawn it should pull the helmet down a bit.

The straps should form a V over the side of the jaw and there should not be any extra gaps in between flesh and straps. Afterall, gaps mean space that is not absorbing impact, which means something else (your head or body) will absorb it. That is what helmets are for, to absorb that impact instead of you, says Hillman.

Follow the steps to fit a helmet properly. It may take time to ensure a proper helmet fit, but your life is worth it. It’s usually easier to look in the mirror or have someone else adjust the straps. For the most comprehensive list of helmet sizes according to manufacturers, go the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute (BHSI) website.

And check out the Bike Walk Tompkins page for some tips on how to safely share the road: .

Here are some statistics from the US Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

* Regardless of the season, bicyclist deaths occurred most often between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.

* Bicyclist deaths occur most often in urban areas (75%) compared to rural areas (25%) in 2017.

* Bicyclist deaths were 8 times higher for males than females in 2017.

* Alcohol was involved in 37% of all fatal bicyclist crashes in 2017.

Have fun out there, and be safe!


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