Twenty-one states have currently enacted bicycle helmet legislation that requires children to wear a helmet while operating a bike. An abstract presented at this year’s American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in Orlando revealed that only 11 percent of children over the age of 12 who were treated for a bike-related injury in Los Angeles County were wearing a helmet at the time of their accident.

"Our study highlights the need to target minority groups, older children, and those with lower socioeconomic status when implementing bicycle safety programs in Los Angeles County," said study author Veronica F. Sullins, M.D. "Children and adolescents have the highest rate of unintentional injury and therefore should be a high priority target population for injury-prevention programs.”

According to the Bike Helmet Safety Institute, 57 percent of bicycle-related fatalities can be prevented by using a protective helmet. Over 135 deaths, 40,000 head injuries, and 20,000 scalp and face injuries suffered by children between ages 4 and 15 can be reduced through the use of bicycle helmets.

Dr. Sullins and her colleagues used information from 1,248 children in the Los Angeles County database for bicycle-related accidents from 2006 to 2011. Each child’s helmet use, age, gender, insurance status, and race/ethnicity were recorded. Researchers also determined if the use of a helmet was linked to emergency surgery, morbidity, mortality, and the amount of time spent in the hospital.

Out of all the children featured in this abstract, the median age was 13, and 64 percent were male. Only 11.3 percent of children wore helmets at the time of the accident — broken down by ethnicity, 35.2 percent of white children, seven percent of Asian children, six percent of black children, and four percent of Hispanic children wore helmets.

Nine of the children involved with the study died as a result of injuries sustained during their accidents. Eight were not wearing helmets. What's more, 5.9 percent of children who sustained injuries required emergency surgery, and 34.1 percent returned to their pre-injury physical status. Dr. Sulllins hopes the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic distinctions in the research team’s data will help identify at-risk groups that require helmet use interventions.

Each year, around 33 million children ride bicycles for close to 10 billion hours, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. An estimated 800 bicyclists were killed, and another 515,000 were rushed to the emergency room following a bicycle-related injury back in 2010.

Source: Sullins V. Racial/Ethnic and Socioeconomic Disparities in the Use of Helmets in Children Involved in Bicycle Accidents. American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition. 2013.