Demonstration of Promising Practices to Increase Proper Bicycle Helmet Use in Middle School Youth

Source: Center for Education and Research in Safety and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

This study replicated a promising pilot program to increase bicycle helmet use in middle school students tested in 2005. Based on feedback from the three participating pilot schools, changes were made to enhance the program followed by a demonstration of the program in 12 newly selected schools from three regions of the country. Each school program was supervised by an adult and included student ownership of the program. During the intervention phase, students selected a group goal for increased helmet use by the end of the program. Along with their overall goal, each week the current status for afternoon helmet use for the preceding week was recorded and publicly posted for their school peers to see. Helmet use was counted only if the helmet was worn properly. To be scored as correctly worn, the helmet had to be buckled snugly (the loop formed by the buckle could not form a loop the observer estimated would accommodate more than a few fingers), and the helmet needed to be level (no more than two finger widths visible above the eyebrows). All student participants worked toward a shared reinforcer (a pizza party), if they attained their selected goal. Students were provided helmets with the school logo and given the option to decorate their helmets. Education was provided including the importance of helmet use, how to fit their helmets, and an overview of basic traffic safety principles for riding safely, i.e., ride in the same direction of traffic, obey traffic signs and signals. Time was allocated to allow for discussion about bicycle safety and to ensure student’s helmets were properly fitted. Following treatment, correct helmet use increased from 14 percent to 34 percent and helmet use also increased in the morning even though students only collected and posted data on afternoon helmet use. Sampled helmet data collected some distance from the school, by paid and trained adult observers, also indicated that students did not remove their helmets outside the school campus. Results of the study suggest it may be unrealistic to increase helmet use by middle school students by using positive reinforcement and information of the safety benefits of helmet use alone. It is likely that the enforcement component and the level of commitment of adult coordinators may be important variables if high levels of helmet use are to be achieved.

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