Helmets that provide best protection

LOS ANGELES A helmet is the child's first defense against injury.

Dr. Michael Tobias, pediatric neurosurgeon, wants kids to wear a bike helmet. He has seen the dire consequences of not wearing one.

"I rarely meet kids that were wearing their bicycle helmets. I usually meet kids that weren't wearing their helmets, or weren't wearing their helmets properly," Tobias said.

/*Consumer Reports*/ put a dozen children's bike helmets through some tough tests to see how well they hold up in an accident.

The helmets ranged in price from $18 to $50.

The helmet tests also applied sudden force to the helmets' straps and buckles to see whether they would stretch or break. That helps determine whether the helmet would come off in an accident.

But Consumer Reports says it doesn't matter whether you get a good helmet if it doesn't fit properly.

For example, a popular /*Hannah Montana*/ denim helmet is supposed to fit children ages 8 and up, but Consumer Reports found it is too big for some 8-year-olds, and actually fits some adults.

"Try before you buy. A good-fitting helmet should fit snugly even before you tighten the straps," said Rich Handel from Consumer Reports.

The helmet should be level and no more than one or two fingers width above the brow. The straps should form a V under each ear, and the buckle should be centered under the chin.

The /*Schwinn Thrasher*/ did very well overall in Consumer Reports tests and at $20, it's a best buy.

The right bicycle helmet will help make this childhood rite of passage a safe one.

Over time, a bicycle helmet's straps may need to be adjusted either because of stretching, slippage or a child's growth, so make sure you check them periodically.

As a rule of thumb, you should replace a helmet at least every five years, and be sure to get a new helmet after an accident.

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