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Bicycle safety tips for children and parents

Posted on Sep 10, 2018

Joseph Perno, M.D.

Biking to school can be a great way for kids to work in some physical activity and to develop independence. But every child who cycles to school should learn and follow some basic safety rules. Pediatric emergency medicine physician Joseph Perno, M.D., shares some advice for kids and parents.

Many kids hate wearing helmets. Do bike helmet laws make a difference?

Absolutely, they do. States with mandatory bike helmet laws have shown significantly lower rates of deaths and devastating injuries. About 900 people die each year from bike injuries—with 75 percent 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.

When do children need to wear a helmet?

Every time a child is on a bicycle, they should be wearing a helmet. In fact, the rule should be:  if it has wheels, they should 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 on the bike and this includes adults, who can be tremendous role models.

When buying a bicycle, should I buy one that the child can grow into?

Unfortunately, no. 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 their 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.

Should I teach my child to use hand signals when riding in the street or is this a dangerous habit?

Many people assume that children will lose control if signaling. However, if children do not have the skills to hand signal and control their bike, they should not be riding 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.

Is it 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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