About 400,000 children are treated in emergency rooms every year for bicycle-related injuries. Some crashes are inevitable, but you can prepare your kids to avoid the some of the most common bike crashes.
1. Get Ready
Properly fit and adjust the bike helmet to your kid’s head. Most bike crashes will just result in scraped knees and elbows, but I can’t over-emphasize the importance of the helmet to protect your child from head and brain injuries. See Easy Steps to Properly Fit a Bicycle Helmet.
Next, do a spring bike tune-up: wipe off and clean the frame, make sure all the bolts are tight, lubricate the chain, inflate the tires and check the brakes. This can help prevent common accidents like a chain breaking or flat tire, and will help you both understand how the bicycle works.
Teach your kid to treat their bike like a vehicle, not a toy. If your kid learns to take care of the bike, they are (hopefully) more likely to respect it and less likely to put their bike and themselves in dangerous situations.
Hazards on the ground like rocks, potholes, or even toys present a danger because kids often don’t understand what to look for and avoid. Try setting up some traffic cones or garbage cans in an obstacle course on your lawn or in the park. As your kid improves at maneuvering, make the objects smaller and harder to see. It’s a fun way for children to get used to the motions of avoiding objects in the road or sidewalk; and if they fall, it will be on the grass instead of pavement.
Before you head out for the practice ride, remind your child to tie shoelaces tightly. Loose laces can get caught in the chain and result in a nasty fall.
3. Road Rules
Do not underestimate the importance of teaching the rules of the road. Start with the sidewalk basics: look both ways, stay to the right, keep a safe distance from other bikes or people, and let others know you’re coming.
Think your kids are ready to ride in the street? Children don’t automatically use their peripheral vision to identify traffic. They need to be trained to spot pedestrians and cars from the side, and to use their hearing as well as vision to determine where traffic is coming from. Younger children don’t understand that they may not be visible to drivers, and that older kids are bound to want to take some risks.
If you’re not confident in your kid’s ability to ride safely, consider a bike class or camp. Community Cycling Center in Portland and Bike Around Bend in Bend are reputable resources for classes and information.
See the Consumer Product Safety Commission kid’s page focused on bike and helmet safety or this Traffic Safety page from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
No matter what you do, you can’t prevent every bicycle accident. Prepare your children as well as you can, and help them to have a great summer.