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Jewish World Review August 7, 2003 / 9 Menachem-Av, 5763

Lenore Skenazy

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Consumer Reports

This helmet thing
has loose ends | If you were a complete idiot who always buckled your seat belt behind your back, wouldn't you appreciate someone stopping you to explain, "'Scuse me, bud - that's supposed to go over your lap"?

Sure, you would. Or at least your insurance company would. So how come so many parents sneer at Harry Moskowitz, a Mount Sinai School of Medicine pediatrician, when he stops them in the park to say, "Pardon me - did you know your child's bike helmet is on backward?"

"Usually, they want me to show them how to put it on, and I will," Moskowitz said. "But some people say, 'You're lucky my kid's wearing a helmet,' or, 'It's none of your business.'"

Actually, helmet ed is exactly Moskowitz's business. He's a specialist in childhood injury prevention, and that's what helmets do: They reduce the risk of head injury by 85%. That's why children under age 14 are required to wear them when bicycling in New York City.

The problem is the vast majority of youngsters wear them incorrectly, according to a study reported in Monday's Daily News. While most children no longer consider helmets dorky, 96% put them on too loosely, too far back on their heads - they should sit just two fingers' width above the eyebrows - or backward. Or the helmets are put on wrong by their parents, including me.

God knows, I can't figure out my kids' helmets. There's an "X" on our nicest one - but does it mark the front or the back? The helmet isn't saying.

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Equally annoying, the straps are eternally twisted. Loosening one side ends up tightening the other. Forget about that nice flat "Y" shape you're supposed to achieve under each ear. One side always looks like it's saving space for a goiter.

Finally, if I snap the chin strap as snugly as you're supposed to, my kids scream, "Too tight!" So, basically, I allow them to ride around with helmets fitting like party hats.

Who is to blame? Me? My squirmy offspring? Or the manufacturers who test the durability of their helmets but not whether a person of average dexterity (and patience) can make the darn things fit?

I'd like to blame the manufacturers, of course. But Bill Fry, CEO of Bell Sports, the nation's largest helmet company, said his company's "Slip, shift and lift" mantra should clear up any problems: Just make sure that the helmet slips on tight, shifts forward over the forehead and, once buckled, can't lift off the head. "If you follow that, there should be no problem."

In any event, Fry said, his company is rolling out some new helmets with a simpler strap system. "And, of course, the most expensive helmets have very easy fit systems."

Maybe it's not practical, but I'd like to see those very easy fit systems on very reasonable helmets very soon. In the meantime, I will take the advice Moskowitz gives the strangers he meets in the park: "Go to a good bike store and ask them to help you fit it."

Will do. And once I figure out which way it goes, I'll scratch out that "X" and write "FRONT!"

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JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.


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