Summer is the time when kids can have the most fun playing with their friends and going on adventures. For many, this means traveling by means of bicycles or bikes.
Bicycle safety is very important during the summer time, and it is up to parents or guardians to make sure that their child or children understand and follow bike safety as well as road rules.
By Melissa Anderson
One of the first things that those teaching bicycle safety need to understand is that bicycles are considered vehicles, not toys. Without this understanding and respect, children are at high risk for injury or even death.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notes that more than one-fifth of all bicyclist deaths occur among school-age youth, ages 5 to 15. More children go to emergency rooms for bicycle related crashes than for any other sport.
“Although most deaths occur as a result of bicycle and motor vehicle crashes, crashes can happen anywhere – in parks, on bicycle paths, and in driveways. Many crashes do not involve motor vehicles,” NHTSA states.
Head injuries are the most serious type of injury and the most common cause of death for bicyclists, accounting for 97 percent of deaths. For this reason, children and adults should always wear a bicycle helmet every time they ride a bicycle. Statistics show that only 45 percent of children 14 and under usually wear a bike helmet.
“Bicycle helmets have been proven to reduce the risk of head and brain injury when a crash occurs by as much as 85 to 88 percent,” NHTSA states.
Another aspect that parents, guardians, and motorists need to understand is that children are not little adults. Children will not react and approach riding their bikes in the streets like an adult cyclist would.
The NHTSA notes that young children do not naturally use their peripheral vision, and while they can be taught to use this skill when searching for traffic, children in grades K-3 are slower than older children and adults in identifying objects in their peripheral vision.
Children also do not automatically use sound to determine if a car is coming. Instead, children depend on their vision to identify traffic and will not usually think to use sounds as a strategy to determine where traffic is coming from.
Many children are also just developing a sense of danger and can frequently misunderstand the complexity of traffic situations. For instance, young school-age children often classify a traffic situation as being safe if no cars are present and do not realize that crossing the street at a curve in the road is dangerous even if cars are not visible.
“Children believe that grownups will look out for them,” NHTSA states.
This can be especially dangerous as children think if they can see themselves then other people can see them too. For instance, a child crossing the road on a hill will believe that he can be seen by others and not realize that a driver coming over the hill will not be able see him until it is too late.
The NHTSA provides the following guidelines for parents and guardians to help make their children safer when riding their bikes. The first thing that is advised is to observe and consider the uniqueness of the child when teaching bicycle safety.
• Establish your rules of where and when your child can bicycle based on your child’s abilities and limitations. Children of the same age may require different levels of supervision.
•Just like when crossing a street on foot, teach children to stop and look left, right and left again before entering a street or crossing an intersection. It is also important to have children learn to look back and yield to traffic coming from behind before turning left.
• Avoid riding at night, as drivers often have a hard time seeing cyclists. If riding at night or in low light conditions is unavoidable, make sure you and the child in your care are visible by wearing bright colored clothing, reflective gear and white head lights plus red rear reflectors.
• Never allow a child to ride a bicycle while listening to audio headphones; they obstruct their ability to hear and pay attention to traffic.
• Teach defensive riding including always looking out for others; many drivers do not look for bicyclists. By teaching your kids to make eye contact with drivers, this will help to ensure that drivers are paying attention and are going to stop before they cross the street.
• Children nine years of age and younger are not able to identify and adjust to many dangerous traffic situations, and, therefore, should not be allowed to ride in the street unsupervised. Children who are permitted to ride in the street without supervision should have the necessary skills to safely follow the “rules of the road.”
Other helpful tips include actively supervising children until you are comfortable that they are responsible to ride on their own. Children should be able to demonstrate riding competence and knowledge of the rules of the road before cycling with traffic.
Tell your kids to ride on the right side of the road with traffic, not against it; stay as far to the right as possible and respect traffic signals, stopping at all stop signs and stoplights.
For more information or if you have questions on how you can help your child be safer on their bicycle, please contact the Cavalier County Health District.