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Bicycle Safety for Children

Posted on Aug 29, 2017

Dr. Joseph Perno

You may have heard the expression, “It’s as easy as riding a bike.”  But let’s see if your knowledge of bicycle safety comes as easily. Joseph Perno, M.D., vice president of medical affairs & safety at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital offers a look at true and falsehoods.

TRUE: Bike helmet laws are effective in reducing the number of bicycle fatalities.

States with mandatory bike helmet laws had significantly lower rates of deaths and devastating injuries. About 900 people die each year from bike injuries with three quarters of these being head injuries. Only 22 states have mandatory bike helmet laws.  Fortunately, Florida is one of the states requiring bike helmets for everyone 15 and younger.

FALSE: Children don’t need to wear a helmet on short rides around the neighborhood.

Every time a child is on a bicycle, he or she should be wearing a helmet. In fact, the rule should be: If it has wheels, wear a helmet. This includes scooters, rollerblades and skateboards. Many falls occur in driveways and sidewalks in front of the child’s home. The habit should be to wear a helmet every time you’re on the bike. This includes adults, who can be tremendous role models.

FALSE: When buying a bicycle, you should buy one that the child can grow into.

Oversized bicycles can be very dangerous. If the child cannot handle the bigger bike, they are more likely to lose control. The child should be able to sit on the seat with hands on the handlebars and place the balls of the feet on the ground. Younger children should have bikes with foot brakes before they graduate to hand brakes.

TRUE: Children should learn to use hand signals when riding in the street.

Many people assume that children will lose control if signaling. However, if the child does not have the skills to hand signal and control the bike, do not allow them to ride in the road. Signaling is essential in alerting motorists of your intentions and avoiding collisions. Many accidents occur when bicyclists fail to signal to passing motorists.

FALSE: It is safer for children to ride against traffic rather than with it.

Children, like adults, should always ride on the right with traffic. Riding against traffic can be confusing for drivers. Almost 25 percent of bike-versus-car accidents occur from bicyclists riding against traffic.

Overall, it is essential for everyone to follow the basic rules for bicycles:

  1. Wear a helmet
  2. Ride on the right, with traffic
  3. Use appropriate hand signals
  4. Respect traffic signals


This information was shared on WTVT-TV’s Doc on Call segment, which is aimed at helping parents learn more about children’s health issues. The segment airs each Monday morning on Good Day Tampa Bay.

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