Biking and Your Child's Safety
Carol Breau remembers the day Richie died -- the day her own son said goodbye to his best friend. Richie rode his bike like any other kid his age. "He fell backwards off the bike and hit his head on the pavement, causing severe brain damage," she says. Richie was 12 years old when he died, more than 20 years ago. "We didn't take bike safety as seriously as we do today," says Breau.
Proper Bike Gear
"Although most children now have helmets, few have the correct size or wear them properly," says David Chiles of Cyclepath in Ontario, Canada. "If you crash on a bike, everything can be repaired except a brain injury. The most important thing is [to protect] the brain."
Chiles suggests that you buy a helmet a bit loose and build it up with the pads provided. Helmets come in a small variety of sizes that can be customized to the shape and size of the head. If the helmet is not worn properly, it will not be effective. Once it has been sized properly, the helmet should balance like an egg on the head with room for two fingers between the brow and the front of the helmet. It should be level, not tipped forward or backward and the straps snug when in a standing position. When the child leans his head back (as in a riding position) the tilt of the head will relax the straps.
Constable Carol Mckay in Ontario, Canada warns that if your child's helmet meets with a fixed object then it should be replaced. If it is dropped down a flight of stairs or thrown on concrete, hairline fractures could develop, causing it to be ineffective in an accident.
Sue Harrington, mother of two, offers a few suggestions to parents. "Buy a helmet your child likes. Be a good role model -- wear one yourself, and have a rule in the family: no helmet, no bike." In Harrington's family, the kids choose the helmet over the embarrassment of having Mom or Dad call them back to the house.
Every bike should also have a bell, reflective tape and lights. A bell notifies pedestrians as well as other bikers that someone is behind them. Increasingly, cyclists as well as pedestrians use outdoor nature trails. People walking often don't anticipate bikes behind them as they would on a city street. Using a bell and lights can help to prevent accidents.
"It can hurt a lot when you get gravel in your knuckles and sunglasses are just common sense nowadays," said Chiles. Unless your child is BMXing or stunt riding, sunglasses and proper riding gloves are the only other gear needed. Elbow pads and shin guards can hinder coordination and even cause accidents.
- Buying a bike for your youngster? Visit a bike shop first and get the proper size for your child. Even if you end up buying at a department store, you will have had professional help from the specialty shop in determining the right size.
- When fitting a helmet, make use of the pads provided by the manufacturer.
- Do the tap test on your child's helmet. Walk around your child while he is wearing the helmet, tapping on both sides and front and back. If the helmet moves, it is not sized properly.
- Supply sunglasses and gloves and remind your child to wears them when riding.
- Buy a bell, reflective tape and lights.
- Make sure your child understands the rules of the road and common courtesy.
- Finally, look for classes that reinforce proper bike operation and
offer lessons on how to look after a bike.
How do you choose the proper bike size for your child? According to Chiles, the child's feet should be able to rest lightly on the ground when the bicycle's seat is in the lowest position. Have the child stand over the crossbar with both hands on the handlebars, and if the bike fits, there will be a 2-inch clearance over the crossbar. "Most parents, almost 90 percent, buy bikes that are too big for their children. You should buy the right sized bike and raise the seat as the child grows" he says.
If a child is riding his bike on the road, he should be on the right hand side, obeying all the rules of the road. Mckay recommends children younger than 9 not be allowed to ride on the road alone. "Once a child can balance on a bike, that does not mean he is ready to go." Children are permitted to ride the sidewalks as long as pedestrians are not ignored and they ride with consideration. If a child is riding the sidewalks, the bike should be dismounted at crosswalks and walked across the street. Any child riding on the road should know t obey stop signs and how to use his turn signals.
A bike is a vehicle and in some areas is treated as such within the law. In accidents involving bikes, the cyclist is responsible for his actions. If the cyclist is at fault, he can be charged, and if the cyclist holds a drivers license, that can be affected as well. Many schools and police forces band together and offer bike rodeo programs during school time to reinforce traffic rules. Children bring their bikes to school or visit a safety village where bikes are provided. In-class instruction is followed by outside practice to test the rules learned.
Harrington believes it is hard to instill the importance of exercising caution in young children. "Children get so wrapped up in their fun that they frequently forget to look for cars before zooming out onto the road. I don't hesitate to call them back to the door to give reminders." Mckay agrees with her: more than 70 percent of accidents involving bikes are caused by cyclist error.
There is nothing like the thrill of the open road when the snow melts and the bikes are hauled out of storage for the first time. After you've pumped up the tires and fitted the helmets, buy a bell and some reflective tape. We can't have our eyes on our children constantly but if we teach them and equip them properly, they will learn how to keep themselves safe.