Gear up for bike safety
With the weather getting nicer, I’d like to pedal some important information to help keep children safe when they go for a bike ride.
Make sure your child’s bike fits properly. Don’t buy a bike that is too big with the expectation your child will grow into it, because they could lose control of the bike and hurt themselves. A bike is sized right when your child can sit on the seat with feet flat on the ground and the handlebar no higher than the shoulders. A first bike should also have foot brakes and not just hand brakes, since your child’s coordination may not be good enough to control hand brakes.
Provide the right safety equipment. That means helmets, even for short rides, since most accidents happen near home in driveways, on sidewalks or on bike paths, not just on streets. A properly fitted helmet should meet standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. A helmet should sit level and not tilt forward or backward, and should not be worn on top of a baseball cap or other hat. The straps should fit snugly under the chin, and only one finger maximum should fit between the chin strap and the chin. A football helmet or ski helmet is not a substitute for a bike helmet. Parents should be good examples and use helmets at all times as well when they ride a bicycle.
Children should wear fluorescent, or at least brightly colored clothing, to help motorists see them on the road. Pant legs shouldn’t be too loose-fitting, so they don’t get caught in the chains. Make sure shoes can grip the bike pedals and remind your child not to wear headphones or earbuds while riding so they can hear the traffic around them. Even with bike reflectors or a reflective vest, it is never safe for a child to ride at dusk or after dark.
Remember that a well-maintained bike is a safe bike, so make sure it is tuned up at least once a season with tires inflated, chains oiled and cleaned, handlebar and seat adjusted for height, and brake pads checked for wear and tear.
Children also need to learn the rules of the road before they go off riding without you. Those rules include riding with traffic, not against traffic; stopping and looking both ways before entering the street or at intersections; using proper hand signals before turning; and respecting and following traffic signals even if they were put in place for cars.
Hopefully, tips like these will put the brakes on any concerns you have when it comes to keeping your child safe on a bicycle this summer.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and NBC5.