Bicycling Safety for Children

For children, learning to ride a bike means freedom and adventure. Any apprehension that existed when they first wobbled their way out of training wheels soon dissipates, and before you know it they're pedaling around the neighborhood with abandon. So, it is up to parents to make sure that this developmental milestone is also the beginning of a lifelong understanding of the importance of bicycle safety.

Helmet Basics
The statistics speak for themselves. Consider these from the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Nearly 50 percent of children 14 and under hospitalized for bicycle-related injuries are diagnosed with a brain injury. Bicycle helmets can reduce the risk of a head injury by 85 percent and brain injury by 88 percent.

  • Your child needs to wear a helmet on every ride.
  • Every member of the family should wear a helmet when bicycling, and it should have a CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) or Snell sticker on it, signifying that it meets rigorous safety standards
  • Bicycle helmets are "single impact" and should be replaced after an accident involving hitting the head. They should also be replaced if there are signs of wear and tear.
  • Buy a helmet that fits; don't buy one for your child to grow into. Also remember that children will outgrow the helmet. If it doesn't fit correctly, replace it.
  • The helmet should fit snuggly, with the chin strap secured tightly. It should be positioned horizontally on the head; not tipped backward or forward.

Bicycle Basics

  • Select a bike that is the right size for your child. A bike that is too big is much harder to control particularly when the coordination skills are still developing. If the bike has a crossbar, your child should be able to straddle it with an inch of clearance when his or her feet are flat on the ground.
  • Make sure your child is able to use the brakes—hand or foot—with ease.
  • Do regular safety checks of the bike—wheels, handlebars, hand brakes, tire pressure.

Riding Basics
Parents should teach their children the following:

  • Always ride single file in the same direction as traffic.
  • Look both ways before entering traffic.
  • Obey traffic laws.
  • Hand signals and when to use them.
  • Always walk your bike in crosswalks
  • Be aware of cars pulling out of driveways, or parked cars that enter traffic.
  • Wear brightly colored clothing, but don't wear headphones.
  • Do not ride before dawn or after dusk.

It's usually wiser to underestimate your children's ability to ride a bicycle. Don't take them on heavily trafficked streets before they're ready. If they do ride with you on busy streets, keep close to them—you will probably be more visible to motorists because of your size. And make sure they are up to flying solo before they head out too far from home on their own.

Trailers and Bike-Mounted Seats
Parents with children who are too young to ride often use "trailers," which attach to the rear axle or frame of a bike and can carry children from one to six years of age. The following are some tips when using a trailer:

  • A child riding in the trailer must wear a helmet. Even though a trailer is closer to the ground than a bike-mounted seat, serious head injuries can still occur.
  • Pay close attention to the trailer's weight limits; there will be a minimum height and weight for passengers.
  • Because trailers have a low profile, which can make it difficult for motorists to see, mount a 3 ½ to 7-foot-high orange visibility flag to it.
  • Be aware that trailers take up more room on the street than a bike, and may be sticking out into the roadway.
  • Don't make abrupt turns when pulling a trailer, as it may tip over.
  • Buy a trailer that has a flip hinge, which will keep the trailer upright even if the bicycle falls.

Some parents opt for a bicycle-mounted seat for their child. Such a seat is mounted behind or in front of a cyclist's seat and can transport one child age 1 to 5 or so. In both seats, the child faces forward. According to Consumer Reports, these seats are potentially less safe than trailers because in an accident, a child would fall about three feet from a mounted bike seat, compared with a fall of about a half a foot from a trailer. In addition, with the added weight of a child at the back or front, a bicycle with a mounted seat might be harder to handle.

When you purchase a trailer or a bike-mounted seat, buy one for your bike. According to Consumer Reports, some won't fit certain bikes. Also, do your homework before your purchase. Certain trailers were recently recalled because of a defective part that caused one wheel to come off the trailers, risking injury to the child and/or the bike rider.

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