With the weather getting nicer and nicer, parents have been pedaling lots of questions at me about bicycle safety. Let me see if I can gear up and answer some of those questions.

Every year more than 1,000 people die in bike accidents, half of those under 15 years of age. Over 1 million children go to emergency rooms yearly for bike-related accidents.

If you don’t want your child to be a bicycle accident injury statistic, here are a few reminders on bicycle safety.

  1. 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 no higher than the shoulders. A first bike should also have foot brakes and not just hand breaks, since your child’s coordination may not be good enough to control hand brakes.
  2. Your child needs to have the right 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 look both ways before entering the street or at intersections; use proper hand signals before turning; and respecting and following traffic signals even if they were put in place for cars. Even with bike reflectors or a reflective vest, it is never safe for a child to ride at dusk or after dark.
  5. 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, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

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