If you’re a bicyclist, there are few things more exciting than introducing your child to the world of biking. Whether you start your little one with training wheels or on a balance bike, you’ll be teaching them a skill that they can use and enjoy throughout their lifetime. For kids, learning to ride a bike can promote a sense of independence — and it’s also a lot of fun and good exercise.
Of course, while cycling is a relatively safe sport, there are dangers. In addition to your child’s own potential for recklessness, you need to keep other hazards in mind, like vehicles, unsafe road conditions, and even other cyclists. When you are teaching your child to ride, it is vital that you include lessons on safety.
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Bike safety for kids is a bit different than for adults. While many of the same principles hold true — like always wearing a helmet — there are some additional things to take into consideration.
By virtue of their size, kids are generally less visible on their bikes than adults are. This makes it all the more important to teach your kids to be alert and wear reflective gear.
You should also keep in mind that your child’s frontal lobe is still developing into their mid-20’s. The frontal lobe helps you plan, make decisions, avoid risk, and exercise impulse control. A child or teen is more likely to make risky decisions on their bike because their brains are still growing and developing.
With that in mind, here are some tips for how to keep your child safe as they experience the joy of bike riding.
Tip 1: Wear a Helmet Every Time
Children and teens have the highest risk of suffering a nonfatal bike injury in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), kids between the ages of 5 and 19 accounted for one-third of all nonfatal bike injuries treated in emergency departments across the U.S. In 2017, 39,388 kids between the ages of 5 and 9 and 49,283 kids between the ages of 10 and 14 were treated in the emergency department for nonfatal biking injuries.
One of the most effective ways of preventing serious injury to your child while riding a bike is through the use of a helmet. A properly-fitted helmet can significantly reduce the likelihood of concussion, brain trauma, and other types of brain injuries. Most states require kids under a certain age to wear a helmet at all times while on a bike.
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How to Choose the Right Bike Helmet for Your Child
When selecting a helmet for your child, keep the following factors in mind:
- Take your child with you when buying a bike helmet so that you can get a good fit.
- Measure your child’s head size to get the best fit.
- The helmet should fit snugly, with no spaces between the foam and your child’s head.
- The helmet should not fit too high or low on your child’s head. Make sure that the pad at the front of the helmet is within one or two-finger widths of your child’s eyebrows. The back of the helmet should not touch the top of your child’s neck.
- The straps of the helmet should form a “V” under your child’s ears when snapped, and should be snug but comfortable.
- Your child’s visibility should not be impaired by the helmet; be sure that the helmet does not slip down and prevent them from seeing clearly.
- Ask your child to open their mouth as wide as they can when the straps are snapped in place. If the helmet does not “hug” their head when they do this, tighten the straps and make sure that the buckle is flat against their skin.
- Look for bike helmets that are certified by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC); these helmets will have been tested for safety and meet federal safety standards.
Be sure to regularly check your child’s helmet for damage. If it is damaged or has been in a crash, replace it. Even if the helmet has sustained only one impact, there may be damage that isn’t obvious. Your best bet in these situations is to replace the helmet to protect your child’s brain.
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Tip 2: Wear and Use the Right Gear
In addition to a helmet, your child should always wear proper equipment when riding. Depending on the situation, this may mean bright, reflective clothes — particularly in low light conditions.
Check to make sure that your child’s clothes don’t present a danger when riding. Long or loose clothing can get caught in bike chains or the spokes, causing an accident. But don’t just forbid your kids to wear those clothes — talk to them about why these steps are important.
You should also make sure that your child understands the importance of reflectors and lights on their bikes. Most states require you to have at least a front light when riding after dusk. Explain why this is important, and help your children install reflectors and lights on their own bikes.
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Tip 3: Keep Their Bikes in Good Shape
Just like you would for your own bike, regularly check your child’s bike to make sure that it is in good working condition. A few things to look out for:
- Do the brakes work properly?
- Do the gears shift smoothly?
- Are the tires properly inflated?
- Are the reflectors secure on the bike?
Teach your child to go over these basic items each time that they ride. In no time, they’ll be pros at making sure that their bikes are safe to ride!
Tip 4: Watch Your Kids on Family Bike Rides
Once your child gets past the stage where you need to hold onto the back of the bike to make sure that they don’t fall, it may be tempting to set them free. Although each child is different, it is a good idea to supervise your children on their bikes until you are confident that they are able to handle solo rides. A good way to do this is to take family bike rides.
Before your child goes out on their own, be sure that they understand the basic rules of the road. They should also understand simple safety principles, like that cars backing out of driveways may not see them, so they should be extra cautious around driveways. If your child demonstrates that they are capable of handling independent biking, you can allow them to ride by themselves.
Tip 5: Model Good Cycling Behavior for Your Kids
As adults, it is easy to slip into bad cycling behavior — like not wearing a helmet, hopping on our bikes without doing a safety check, or wearing headphones that prevent you from hearing the traffic around you. Remember that your kids are watching and learning from you, even when you are not explicitly teaching them about bike safety. Get back to the fundamentals, and do the kinds of things that you would want your child to do.
Wear a Helmet
First, you should always wear a helmet when riding your bike. Although it isn’t required for adults in most states, wearing a helmet is the best way to reduce the risk of brain injuries. If your kids see you in a bike helmet, they’ll be less likely to protest wearing their own helmets.
Teach Your Kids the Rules of the Road
Second, teach your kids the rules of the road — and follow the same rules when you are riding with them. While laws in each state differ, you should always respect traffic signals and stop at all stop signs and red lights. Ride with traffic, not against it, and stay as far to the right as possible. Use appropriate hand signals, and teach your kids to do the same.
Third, be alert when biking — and show your kids what you are doing. Before entering a street or crossing an intersection, stop and look both ways. When turning left, look back and yield to oncoming traffic. Exaggerate what you are doing, if necessary, to show your kids how important this step is.
Model Cycling Courtesy
Fourth, use basic bike courtesy and make sure you teach your kids how to do the same. Explain to your kids why you do things like call out, “on your left!” when riding on a path. Ride predictably, staying in a straight line and never swerving between parked cars. Be sure to talk to your kids about why you are doing this — so they can do the same when biking.
Model Being Visible
Fifth, emphasize the importance of being conspicuous to others on the road. This is especially important for kids, as drivers may have more trouble seeing them. Ride where people can see you and wear bright clothing. Talk to your kids about making eye contact with drivers and others. Be sure to use your front and rear lights when visibility is low, and always have reflectors on your bike.
Teach Your Kids To Think and Plan
Sixth, teach your kids to think and plan ahead while riding their bikes. Point out debris, potholes and other hazards on the road, and the right way to cross railroad tracks. Explain how you need to watch for turning cars, those backing out of a driveway or other parking spots, and the door zone of parked cars. Train your kids to anticipate what drivers, pedestrians and other people on bikes will do next so that they can be safe.
Teach Your Kids to Use Bike Tools
Seventh, carry the appropriate tools and supplies for your bike and show your kids how to use them. While a 5-year-old may not be able to change a tire, they can watch you do it — and understand the importance of learning how to fix their bikes in an emergency. Show your kids how to properly inflate their tires, apply grease to their chains, and other kinds of bike maintenance.
By teaching your kids these things, you can reduce the chances that they will be in a bike accident. Bike safety doesn’t happen without some work on our parts — so be sure to actively engage with your kids in the process of both learning and practicing good bike safety!
Related Content: How to Help your Kids Bike to School
Thanks to Our Guest Poster, Mark Kaire
Attorney Mark Kaire is the founder of Kaire & Heffernan, LLC. Based in Miami, Mr. Kaire represents individuals throughout South Florida who have been injured in a range of accidents, including bike crashes.
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