Best Bets for Bicycle Safety
May is National Bicycle Safety Month. The first practical bicycle that can be verified was made in Germany in 1817, so bicycles have been around for at least 200 years. Most of us remember our first bicycle and the joy and freedom it brought. To make sure that children continue to experience this joy and freedom, parents and adults will need to teach kids about bike safety.
The Helmet is Crucial
Properly fitted bike helmets have reduced head injuries by more than 45% since they became easily available. However, less than half of children ages 14 and under wear a helmet. Parents need to require helmet use from an early age, and they need to model helmet use themselves. A sporting goods store will give you advice on helmet size for your child and will see that it is properly adjusted. Have your child’s helmet rechecked each year and replace it if necessary.
Kids will have strong opinions on the type, style and color of their bicycle. But fit is important, too. A bike that is too big or too small may compromise safety. Check the brakes, steering and tire pressure often. Adjust the seat and handlebars each year as your child grows. Shoe laces should always be tied when riding, and pant legs should be banded to keep them from getting caught in the chain.
Most experts and safety organizations tell parents to ride with their children until you are absolutely sure your child can safely ride alone. Teach the rules of the road—when riding on the street, ride with the traffic, near the curb. Teach kids what road signs mean as well as how to use hand signals. Bicycles need to follow the same traffic rules as cars. For night riding, bicycles should have head and tail lights, and riders should wear clothing with reflective tape.
Some safety organizations recommend that younger children ride on the sidewalk, especially in areas of heavy traffic. If your child will be riding on the sidewalk, teach these rules as well:
- Give pedestrians the right of way.
- If you are passing a pedestrian, give a verbal warning such as “coming on your left."
- Watch for cars backing out of garages and driveways.
- When you get to a street corner, get off your bike and walk it across the street; cars may not expect a fast moving bicycle to enter the street. When walking your bicycle, follow the same rules as pedestrians for traffic lights and stop signs.
Teaching bicycle safety is on ongoing process. Every spring, when the bikes come out of the garage after the long winter, parents and adults should review safety rules to make sure their children can safely enjoy this fun activity.