That's the message from the American Academy of Pediatrics this summer. The group confirms that riding without a bike helmet significantly increases the risk of head injuries if a bicyclist crashes, and crashes can be serious even when just riding around the neighborhood.
Emergency room doctor Mike Gittleman, co-coordinator of the Comprehensive Children's Injury Center at Cincinnati's Children's Hospital Medical Center, says wearing a helmet can reduce head-injury chances by 85 percent - injuries that can run the gamut.
"Sometimes you just see some abrasions, but they can also be more serious, where you can have skull fractures, you can have intracranial bleeding, and it can even cause death."
Twenty-one states have bicycle helmet laws. Texas isn't one of them, although several cities have enacted ordinances, most of which are aimed at protecting youth riders..
More than 600 people on bicycles were killed in collisions with motor vehicles across the nation in 2010, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and at least 70 percent were not wearing helmets.
Just as you get your bicycle checked on a yearly basis, he says, it's important to make sure your helmet still fits correctly, which is particularly important with children as they grow. Last year's helmet may need adjusting or replacing, he says, adding that there also is an economic rationale for bike-helmet use.
"The usage alone will not only save lives and injury, but it also saves health-care dollars. The expense on these injuries is great, and if we can prevent them on the forefront, it would be saving health-care dollars as well."
With the exception of motor vehicles, Gittleman says, bikes are linked to more childhood injuries than any other consumer product - including trampolines, ladders and swimming pools.
Helmet laws by state are listed online at iihs.org/laws, cycling fatality statistics are at iihs.org/research/fatality.aspx and AAP recommendations are at healthychildren.org.