The long, sunny days of summer are the perfect time to get the bikes out of the garage, but parents should hit the brakes and talk to children about bike safety first. Bike accidents are the second-leading cause of serious injury in school-age children. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2010, 800 bicyclists were killed in the U.S. and an estimated 515,000 sustained bicycle-related injuries that required emergency department care. Roughly half of these cyclists were children and adolescents under the age of 20.
Tony Woodward, MD, MBA, medical director of emergency medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital, says most biking injuries occur because a child either isn’t wearing a helmet or is putting themself in a potentially dangerous situation. “Children may see themselves as invincible when they are on a bike, which is not the truth,” says Woodward.
Biking is a great summer time activity for children and families, incorporating both physical fitness and family time, but proper safety measures are important to keeping kids injury-free. Accidents can and will happen while biking, even on the quietest roads and safest sidewalks, but these tips can help reduce the risk of serious injuries.
Top tips for keeping kids safe while biking
Wear a helmet every time. Children should wear a helmet every time they ride a bike. “Most of the serious and life-threatening injuries we see are head injuries,” says Woodward, but that risk can be reduced by wearing a properly fitted helmet. By simply wearing a helmet that fits correctly, children can reduce their risk of serious injury up to 85 percent. It doesn’t matter if a child is biking across town or across the driveway, children should wear a helmet every time they ride their bike, says Woodward. “Children shouldn’t be allowed on their bike unless their helmet is on their head first.”
Make sure you have the right helmet and the right fit. Not all helmets are made for biking. For instance, football helmets or hard hats are not acceptable for biking. Bike helmets are made specifically for head-first falls and should be properly fitted on a child. Helmets should meet safety standards and should have a CPSC (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission) or Snell sticker inside. Proper fitting is also important. “Helmets only work if they are the right size,” says Woodward. If you can move the helmet from side to side, the helmet should be adjusted. Helmets should fit solidly on a child’s head and feel level. Due to the type of built-in protection, helmets are also only good for one crash. Remember, after a crash consider it trash!
Wear proper clothing. Kids should wear bright clothes while biking to be more visible to other bikers, pedestrians and cars. Reflectors or lights on the front and back of a bike and helmet are also a great way to increase visibility and ensure safety. Avoid wearing loose-fitting clothing that could catch in the bike’s chain and mechanics, and wear proper shoes. “Wearing closed toed shoes while biking can reduce the risk of losing a toe and long sleeves can help guard against road rash if a child falls off their bike,” says Woodward. Flip-flops or shoes with heels are also hazardous.
Ride a bike that is right for you. Bikes come in all shapes, colors and styles. Choose a bike that fits your child’s skill level and style, but most importantly, find a bike that is the right size. Don’t purchase a bike that a child will grow into. A properly sized bike is a safer bike. Your child should be able to sit on the seat with their feet flat on the ground and the handlebars should be no higher than their shoulders.
Perform a safety check before every ride. Before every ride check to make sure a bike’s seat, handlebars and wheels are all adjusted correctly and in good shape. Nothing should be loose or falling apart. Check the chain of the bike and the brakes, and make sure the tires have enough air.
Be aware of surroundings while biking. Set clear guidelines with your child about where it is safe to ride their bike – on the street or on the sidewalk – and how far is too far away from home. Woodward recommends kids younger than 10 not ride without an adult in the street. Bike paths are a great option for children, free from motor vehicles. However, bike paths are not free from potential hazards, like sticks, rocks, protruding objects and other potential obstacles such as dogs, people and faster bikers. Also, bike paths are meant to be shared. Teach children to be respectful of walkers and other bikers and to always pay attention to their surroundings.
Proper supervision is key. Supervision is key, but it isn’t just when kids are on their bike, says Woodward. Supervision starts by preparing kids for their bike, with proper equipment and modeled behavior.
Follow road rules. Most pediatricians recommend not allowing children under 10 to bike on the roads, but if a child is deemed old enough and mature enough to ride on roads, make sure they understand the rules of the road:
- Ride with traffic, never against traffic
- Always stop and check for traffic in both directions when exiting a driveway
- Stop at all stop signs and obey traffic lights
- When riding on the road, act as a car
- Use bike lanes and bike routes
- Avoid riding too close to parked cars to avoid car doors opening suddenly
- Use proper hand signals, when safe to do so
Accidents can happen anywhere – on the sidewalk, in the driveway, even on a quiet bike path – that’s why being prepared, supervised and aware of surroundings are so important. Biking is fun, but safety comes first!