Training Helmet Fitters
Although we may think that getting more helmets on riders' heads is the most important goal of a helmet program, good fit is also important to helmet safety. A helmet that fits poorly can be out of position before a fall or can get jarred out of position during the crash sequence. The result can be a bare head hitting the pavement as if the rider had never had a helmet on at all. This might explain some data that does not track with the normal effectiveness of helmets.
Among the various approaches to the problem are programs offering fitting services at bike rodeos and other events. While riders may not take the time to fiddle with the straps to get a good fit, they will stand still while somebody else does the fiddling. And anyone who has fitted a number of helmets can do the job a lot faster.
The question then becomes how to train helmet fitters. Our approach so far has been to recommend that the fitters read our advice on How to Fit a Bicycle Helmet. We have more fitting resources listed at the bottom of that page. If possible we recommend that you get help from a bike shop employee or another experienced fitter. We also have a fitting checklist for your fitters.
The California Department of Public Health has responded to the need for a fitting program with this PassPort presentation on how to train fitters. We recommend it highly.
Safe Kids USA has a fitting video on YouTube. It's a little too "it's just that easy" though, and has no info on how to test the fit after you adjust the straps.
If you are planning to fit helmets at an event, bear in mind that you will need enough fitters to take care of the number of helmets you expect to fit, and that one fitter can probably only fit about 20 standard helmets with foam fitting pads per hour--one every five minutes--and get it right. Helmets with ring-fit ("one size fits all") systems probably can be done quicker. The Bell models with True Fit can also be fitted very rapidly, since they require only adjusting the chin strap, rather than adjusting the trickier side straps.
If you are faced with fitting a very large number of helmets at a single event, you might consider giving the demo for the riders, or for the parents who come with their kids, then have them try to fit the helmet as well as they can. After that your fitters come along and finish the job with final adjustments. If lines for your fitters get too long and the riders or kids bolt rather than wait, at least they leave with the helmet fitted as well as it would be if they were doing it at home.
Recognizing the possible legal implications, some helmet program organizers have asked if we have a certification program for helmet fitters. There is such a program in the automotive safety field for child passenger safety, with emphasis on fitting child safety seats. It is taught through a combination of lectures, discussions of new issues, role-playing and hands-on practice with both child safety seats and seat belt systems. Students take both written and hands-on tests, and participate in a "real world" child safety seat checkpoint, where students must demonstrate proficiency communicating, and in demonstrating proper installation to the public. The course takes four days. This level of instruction may not be necessary for fitting bicycle helmets properly.
BHSI has not undertaken development of a certification course, but we have recommended to NHTSA that they consider funding the project. If it is done we will have information on it on our Web site. Meantime we have the pamphlet with fitting instructions. The steps in the pamphlet are a good guide to basic training for fitters, although they need to be modified for specific helmet models.
This page was last revised on: July 1, 2010.