By: Dave Toohey
North Central Highway Safety Network
With the beginning of summer and the end of the school year, motorists should be extra vigilant for children on bicycles on streets and highways.
For parents, the prospect of having their children go for a bike ride can be a scary proposition. It’s important that parents evaluate their children’s bicycling skills and maturity before letting them even near the road.
Children with poor balance and skills, or who unable to follow simple safety rules may need to be under direct supervision or restricted to sidewalks or the yard. What follow are a few safety rules for parents, children and bicycles.
Pennsylvania law requires all less than 12 years of age to wear an approved helmet, weather a rider or as a passenger. More children ages 5 to 14 years are seen in emergency rooms for injuries related to biking than any other sport.
Helmets can reduce the risk of severe brain injuries by 88 percent – yet only 45 percent of children 14 years and under usually wear a bike helmet. In Pennsylvania, parents or guardians who knowingly permit a child who’s under 12 years to ride without such a helmet can be held responsible and subject to a fine.
Helmets aren’t only a good idea for the kids, but considered a necessary piece of safety equipment for teens and adults alike. Please ensure that your child is protected and wears a helmet.
Make sure your child has the right size helmet and wears it every time when riding, skating or scooting. Your children’s helmet should meet the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) standards. When it’s time to buy a new helmet, let your children pick out their own; they’ll be more likely to wear them for every ride.
Make sure the helmet fits and your child knows how to put it on correctly. A helmet should sit on top of the head in a level position, and should not rock forward, backward or side to side. The helmet straps must always be buckled, but not too tightly. Safe Kids recommends kids take the Helmet Fit Test.
- EYES check: Position the helmet on your head. Look up and you should see the bottom rim of the helmet. The rim should be one to two finger-widths above the eyebrows.
- EARS check: Make sure the straps of the helmet form a “V” under your ears when buckled. The strap should be snug but comfortable.
- MOUTH check: Open your mouth as wide as you can. Do you feel the helmet hug your head? If not, tighten those straps and make sure the buckle is flat against your skin.
Supervise Your Child
Know where they are going and how long they will be gone. This is a good habit to develop with your child for all activities. Actively supervise children until you’re comfortable that they are responsible to ride on their own.
Every child is different, but developmentally, it can be hard for kids to judge speed and distance of cars until age 10, so limit riding to sidewalks (although be careful for pedestrians and vehicles in driveways), parks or bike paths until age 10.
No matter where you ride, teach your child to stay alert and watch for cars and trucks. Children should be able to demonstrate riding competence and knowledge of the rules of the road before cycling with traffic.
Teach children the rules of the road. 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. To always use appropriate hand signals and respect traffic signals, stopping at all stop signs and stoplights.
By Pennsylvania law, bicyclists must obey all the same laws other drivers do. When everyone follows the same rules the chance of being in a crash diminishes greatly. Teach your children the right way from the beginning to keep them safe.
When riding on the sidewalk bicycles must yield to pedestrians and when passing one must give an audible signal (either by voice, bell, horn or other means loud enough to hear from 100 feet away).
Teach your kids to make eye contact with drivers. Bikers should make sure drivers are paying attention and are going to stop before they cross the street.
When riding at dusk, dawn or in the evening, be bright and use lights – and make sure your bike has reflectors, as well. It’s also smart to wear clothes and accessories that have retro-reflective materials to improve biker visibility to motorists.
Bright colors, lights and reflectors make it easier for drivers to see the bicyclist and identify them as a slower moving vehicle. Lights and reflectors are required by law and are required between sunset and sun rise.
Light must be bright enough to be able to be seen from 500 feet away. Riding without a headlight means drivers won’t see you, and surprising motorists is never a good idea.
Proper Equipment and Maintenance Are Important!
Ensure proper bike fit by bringing the child along when shopping for a bike. Select one that is the right size for the child, not one he or she will grow into. When children are sitting on the seat of the bicycle, their feet should be able to touch the ground.
Before the ride, make sure the reflectors are secure, brakes work properly, gears shift smoothly and tires are tightly secured and properly inflated. Long or loose clothing can get caught in bike chains or wheel spokes. Dress young kids appropriately to ensure a safe ride.
You’d be surprised how much kids learn from watching you, so it’s important for parents to model proper behavior. Wear a helmet, even if you didn’t when you were a kid.
Teach kids to always be predictable when riding. Always stop and look left, right and left again before entering a street or crossing an intersection. Look back and yield to traffic coming from behind before turning left.
Childhood bicycling can lead to a lifetime of healthy exercise so teach your children the fundamentals so they can be safe as they keep fit. For more information on Bicycling Safety check the Safe Kids Web site or PennDOT.
This safety message was brought to you by Clearfield County’s Safe Kids Coalition. Our local coalition is part of Safe Kids Worldwide, a global organization dedicated to preventing injuries in children, the number one killer of kids in the United States.
For more information, please contact Judy Patterson, Nutrition-Safety Advisor for Cen Clear Child Services, at 814-342-5678, Ext. 2264. The coalition always welcomes new members and meets the last Tuesday each month at noon at Cen-Clear Child Services, 1633 Bigler-Philipsburg Hwy., Philipsburg.