There are a couple of things that people are told in relation to bike helmets. I am concerned with the third.

The first is that everyone should wear a helmet whenever riding a bicycle (not: kids have it placed as a safety expectation, but one that clearly doesn't apply to parents).

The second is that if you get in an accident and fall on your helmet, congratulations! You've destroyed completely the value of a perfectly good helmet, instead of the person suffering possible brain injury. Throw it away and buy a new one that will protect for the next accident.

But the third is that there is a right way and a wrong way to put on a helmet, and the wrong way has a majority share.

The right way is illustrated in the first picture, and the wrong, more common way, is in the second picture:


enter image description here


enter image description here

The difference, beside the fact that the right way looks dorky, uncool and way too far forward, is that if the person portrayed in the first picture were to faceplant hard, the helmet will take a good chunk of the impact; it may not directly protect the whole face but in a sizable portion of bicycle crashes the helmet will significantly mitigate the force of the impact.

The second way that seems obvious and looks right will leave plenty of possibility for the helmet to be pushed out of the way, or not need to be pushed out of the way, so that if the person faceplants the helmet may have little effect beyond the ornamental. Having a helmet worn this way is a bit like wearing a seatbelt that is halfway to being pushed far in enough to click, and I have seen this way of wearing a good helmet on the picture on the front of a medical group's safety brochure explaining to parents why children should wear helmets for certain activities.

So what is the best response when I see parents using helmets in some sense but not in a way that will really help in an accident. Mostly I've kept quiet when this happens, and I originally looked for a manners or communication StackExchange site to post this in, but I'm wondering what is an appropriate response when they think buying a helmet is enough, and do not seem to recognize that there is more to getting serious benefit from a helmet than somehow having the helmet touching a child's head.

So what kinds of responses are helpful when parents have paid for a helmet but aren't using it nearly as helpfully as it could be used?

  • 1
    "right way looks dorky, uncool" = complete aside, why haven't we figured out how to fix that yet? Seems after 20 so years or so someone would have figured out a slightly less dorky bike helmet by now. (but to offer a bit of an answer...I, for one, wouldn't be insulted by someone asking me if they could help me fit my child's safety equipment a bit better to make it that much safer...)
    – DA01
    Commented Apr 21, 2014 at 1:07
  • 2
    I agree with @DA01- why can't we have a helmet that looks cool so that people might want to wear it? That being said, aside from the dork factor, I find my own helmet...challenging to figure out how to fit properly, and I'm an adult and I want to wear it. It is a million times more infuriating and sometimes futile to try to fit and adjust a helmet on an impatient, fidgeting , squirming, non-compliant child. So, aside from making them look cool, maybe someone can invent one that doesn't require an apprenticeship to learn to get on.
    – Jax
    Commented Apr 21, 2014 at 1:32
  • Helmets will never be 'cool' because being 'safe' is directly at odds with being 'cool'. Cool is challenging authority, being reckless, pushing boundaries. Safely riding your bike is not that, unfortunately; it's just how humans are wired. (That said, pushing boundaries is also how we improve ourselves as a species... it's just not as safe. And a matter of pushing useful boundaries, not the 'boundaries' of safe bike riding.)
    – Joe
    Commented Apr 21, 2014 at 2:33
  • I actually disagree with the first statement. There are a lot of things that are way more endangering for cyclist, such as a street design that doesn't accommodate separate space for cyclists, drives who aren't looking, etc. As for the 'but helmets protect your head!'-argument - yes, they do, but in an accident, pedestrians or even car passengers are just as likely to suffer from head injuries, and yet no-one required them to wear a helmet (I'm from the Netherlands, FYI). That being said, I think the first two statements are off-topic for your question, and you should remove them. Commented Apr 21, 2014 at 14:43
  • Why does this sound less like a question and more like a PSA? I don't disagree with what you're saying but there's really no question here without the trivial answer of "uhhh.. mention it to them."
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Apr 21, 2014 at 14:47

1 Answer 1


I would say the answer depends on the role of the person asking the question.

Are you a bike shop owner or employee? Then you should point it out to your customers, preferably while selling them a helmet. Point it out to the parents who put helmets on their kids heads in your store. You're basically an acknowledged public expert in the matter; this is roughly equivalent to Eric Lippert looking over my shoulder and pointing out my improper use of semicolons, or Phil Jackson walking by the gym and telling me my free-throw technique needs improvement. Use that role to your advantage.

Are you a biker seeing people on the road? I'd keep your mouth shut then unless it's somebody you know. You wouldn't want someone walking up to you on the street telling you that your shirt doesn't match your pants, either, and most people don't like being told how to parent by strangers.

Are you a friend of the parents? Then it's probably okay, if you are close enough to otherwise discuss parenting with them, or if you're the generally accepted expert on biking of your friend group; see #1.

Are you a school teacher, pastor, or other esteemed member of the community with a mentor type role with the parents or children? Then it's probably appropriate to mention it once.

Anyone else is similar to the biker on the road - it's not your business to directly confront anyone. If you want to change peoples' minds, then do it via advocacy. Write a blog post, go to online communities. (I suppose perhaps you're doing that here.) (If that is what you're doing here- or want to - post a question, "What is the right way to put my child's helmet on?" and answer it, with pictures as you did (but perhaps with a kid??).) See if you can get your local news to do a story on it. Especially if there's been a recent bike fatality, odds are they'll do it.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .