It’s the time of year when kids are hopping on their bikes more and more, so parents have been pedaling lots of questions at me about bicycle safety.  Well, let me see if I can gear-up and answer some of those questions.

Every year more than one million children go to emergency rooms for bike-related accidents and about 500 under the age of 15 die – half of the total deaths from these incidents. If you don’t want your child to be a bicycle accident injury statistic, here are a few reminders:

  • Make sure your child’s bike fits properly.  Don’t buy a bike that is too big expecting your child to grow into it because they could lose control of it 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 is no higher than the shoulders.
  • Make sure you have the right equipment and that means helmets that meet standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. A properly fitted 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 role models and use helmets at all times.
  • Children should wear fluorescent or at least bright colored clothing to help motorists see them on the road.  The name of the game is to see and be seen so night riding should be prohibited, even at dusk, since that is when most accidents occur due to poor visibility of the rider and the driver.
  • Pant legs shouldn’t be too loose-fitting or they might get caught in the chain.
  • Make sure shoes can grip the pedals – so riding barefoot, or wearing cleats, shoes with heels or even flip flops can be a problem.
  • 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.
  • Kids also need to learn the rules of the road before they go off riding without you.  The keys are to ride with the traffic, stop and look both ways before entering the street or at intersections, and use proper hand signals before turning.
  • A newer rule is never to wear headphones while biking so bikers can hear everything such as car horns and everyone else on the road.

Hopefully tips like this will put the brakes on any concerns you have when it comes to keeping your child safe on a bicycle this summer.

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital at the University of Vermont Medical Center and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives.

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