Rules of the Road: Kids and Bicycle Safety

Bike riding is an annual rite of passage for kids in my neighborhood. For a 10-year-old, biking to a friend’s house or the park means summertime freedom. Unfortunately, a fun bike ride can also result in serious injury or even death if bike safety rules are ignored. In 2010, bicycle-related injuries sent about 515,000 people to emergency rooms in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Follow these bicycle safety tips to help keep your kids safe on the road:

1. Always wear a helmet.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calls wearing helmets “the single most effective way to prevent head injury resulting from a bicycle crash.” Bruises and broken bones heal. A brain injury, however, can cause serious damage and even death. Make bike helmets a regular bike safety habit for the whole family.

2. Wear a helmet that fits.

Just like hats, helmets are available in a variety of sizes, styles and colors. Let your child pick out her favorite helmet so she’ll be excited to wear it while riding. Check for the perfect fit: Helmets should sit low on the forehead, approximately two finger widths above the eyebrows. The same finger rule applies to the chinstrap. The strap should be snug but not too tight, with one to two fingers fitting between the chin and the strap. Test the fit: Open your mouth wide to yawn and confirm that your helmet pulls down on your head. If it stays put, tighten the strap. According to NHTSA, a properly fitted helmet can reduce the risk of head and brain injury by up to 88 percent.

3. See and be seen.

While you don’t need to cover your child in head-to-toe reflective material, wearing bright or fluorescent clothing does make it easier for drivers to spot children. Be sure that your child’s bike has a white front reflector and a red rear reflector, along with reflectors on the tires. Children should never ride at night without a reflective safety vest.

4. Know the rules of the road.

Sadly, many bikers die each year because they ignore basic traffic rules. Teach your child that a bike is a vehicle and your child is the driver – he must obey all traffic signs, including stop signs and red lights. Bikers must look before turning left or right and indicate the turn’s direction by signaling with an extended arm. Ride in a predictable straight line and never weave in or out of traffic. If your neighborhood has a bike lane, always ride in this lane. Finally, always ride with the flow of traffic rather than against it.

What bicycle safety tips do you teach your children?