Nearly all the bicyclists who are killed in accidents aren't wearing helmets.
By REBECCA SLOAN
Once upon a time, kids balked like mules when parents asked them to put on their bike helmets.
Often moms and dads resorted to force, and bike helmets were pushed onto rebellious juvenile heads despite sullen glares and grumbles of protest.
Oh, how things have changed.
These days every kid wants a bike helmet, and why not? The bike helmets of the 21st century are lighter, airier and so downright wickedly cool that Augie Thumm, owner of Thumm's, a bicycle shop in Warren, said kids today are likely to throw a fit if they can't have a helmet.
"Helmets became popular about 10 years ago, but I've sold more in the past two years than I ever have. For kids, it's turned into a trendy thing, sort of like 'Johnny has a helmet, so I want one too,'" Thumm said.
Here's why: Thumm said helmet manufacturers have gotten wise to what kids like and have designed helmets that seem more like toys than safety devices.
"We sell a helmet that looks like a monster, we sell girls' helmets in funky shades of pink and purple and we sell a chrome-plated helmet that looks like something Darth Vader would wear. For kids, the helmet has evolved into a kind of toy or status symbol," Thumm said.
Although kids go for slick, hip helmet styles, safety is still number one with parents, and fortunately for both parties, helmets are safer than ever -- whether or not they look like Darth Vader's headgear.
"Helmets are better designed today than they were in the past," Thumm said. "For example, I sell one model that has a clasp on the back that positions the helmet in exactly the right place on the wearer's head."
Comfort factor: Besides being safer, helmets are also more comfortable than they used to be.
Don Johnson, a manager at Austintown Glenwood Cycle, said today's helmets now come with an average of 27 air vents, but the early models had only about three to five air vents.
"They are much lighter and cooler than they used to be. Manufacturer's are constantly trying to make helmets safer, lighter and cooler, something that makes the wearer happy no matter what their age," Johnson said.
A good thing, since kids aren't the only ones wearing helmets.
"I think just as many adults are wearing them. Most feel like they shouldn't be preaching to their kids about wearing a helmet and then not wear one themselves," Thumm said.
Law helps: Teens who dig doing stunts on freestyle bikes are also helmet-wearers, often because they are required to be by law.
"In many public places like parks, it is a law for teens or pre-teens who use freestyle bikes to wear helmets," Johnson said.
Thumm said in Pennsylvania it is also a law for any bicyclist under 12 to wear a helmet.
Bike helmets can range from about $20 to $40 for children up to age 8, and about $30 to $50 for ages 8 and older.
No matter what your age, wearing a helmet is one of the top tips for bike safety recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Advisory.
Statistics: The organization reports on its Web site that 75 percent of bicycle fatalities could be prevented by wearing a helmet, and 98 percent of bicyclists killed are not wearing helmets.
The organization's Web site also reports that head injuries account for 60 percent of bike-related deaths, but helmets can reduce the risk of head injury by 85 percent and the risk of brain injury by 88 percent.
In 1998, 761 bicyclists died in traffic-related accidents and 500,000 bicyclists were admitted to emergency rooms.
To help make bicycling safe and fun this summer, which is the season when the most accidents occur, the NHTSA offers these tips:
URide in single file with traffic, never against it.
UWatch for opening car doors, sewer grates, soft shoulders and broken glass..
UKeep a safe distance from vehicles ahead of you, including other bikes.
UBe very alert when crossing intersections.
UUse correct hand signals. Left arm straight out for left turn, forearm up for right turn.
UWear bright colors and wear reflective clothing if you must ride at night.
UMake sure your bike's tires are properly inflated, your bike's cables tight and your bike's chain lubricated.
UDon't listen to headphones while riding.
UAnd, of course, always wear a helmet.