Safety on the Road
Even the most careful rider can take an occasional tumble. So, knowing the rules of the road and other issues of bicycle safety can keep you from getting hurt.
About 800 people in the United States are killed from bicycle injuries each year, most of them from head injuries. Many more get injuries like broken bones or deep cuts that require emergency medical treatment. That’s why it’s so important that you protect yourself and your children with the right equipment and knowledge of bicycle safety.
For young children, set the following hard and fast rules:
• No playing on the road.
• No riding on busy streets.
• No riding at night.
• Stop at all stop signs.
• Ride on the right with traffic.
• Make your own decisions
Regular maintenance of any bike is important to you and your child’s safety as well as the long life of your bicycle. Maintenance isn’t just a yearly tune-up. It means inspecting all bikes every time you take them out for a ride. Listed below are a few things to check out before heading out.
- Make sure your bicycle is the right size. When you are on your bicycle, stand straddling the top bar of your bike so that both feet are flat on the ground.
- There should be 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 7.6 centimeters) of space between you and the top bar.
- The bike seat should be adjusted so that after sitting on the seat with your foot on the bike pedal, your knee will be slightly bent.
- Tighten your bike’s seat, handlebars, and wheels. Make sure the wheels are straight.
- Check and oil your chain regularly.
- Always check your brakes before riding to make sure they are working properly and do not stick.
- Check your tires to make sure they have enough air and the correct tire pressure.
- If you’ll need to carry something while you ride, attach a basket to your handlebars or a rack over your rear tire.
- Put reflectors on your bike to help people see you. You should put a red reflector, 3 inches across, behind your front seat. There should also be a white reflector in front of the handlebars, and other reflectors in the spokes of both wheels.
The majority of bicycle injuries do not involve motor vehicles. Most are falls, collisions with stationary objects, and collisions with other bikes or pedestrians result from the bicyclist losing control, and most occur less than five blocks from home, in familiar surroundings.
But the most serious incidents – including over 90 %t of cyclist deaths – involve motor vehicles. In 70 % of the collisions, the cyclist is at fault, either by violating a law or by poor road sense. Teach your children as if their life depended on the lessons. It does.
Following are some of the most common causes of bicycle injuries:
A youngster rides out of the driveway and gets hit by a car. Very often these incidents involve younger children: the median age is less than 10.
Does your driveway present obstructions to the view of passing motorists, such as bushes or trees? If so, trim them back. Most importantly, teach your child about driveway safety.
Go outside to the driveway and have him or her practice the following steps:
- Stop before entering the street.
- Scan left, then right for traffic.
- If there’s no traffic, proceed into the roadway.
Running Stop Signs
Most cyclists who get hit riding through stop signs know that they are supposed to stop. They just don’t see why, or they get distracted. Impress on your child that, while he or she may not get hit every time, running stop signs is very dangerous. Take your child to a stop sign and explain what it means, emphasizing the following:
- Stop at all stop signs regardless of what is happening.
- Scan both directions for traffic.
- Wait for any cross traffic to clear.
- Proceed when safe.
Above all, practice what you preach!
Turning Without Warning
These collisions occur because the bicyclist makes an unexpected left turn without scanning behind for traffic or signaling.
Teach your children to walk their bikes across busy streets, at least until they have some advanced training and are old enough to understand traffic. In the meantime, for residential street riding, you can teach them to always scan and signal before turning left. Go to a playground to practice riding along a straight paint line while scanning behind. Stand alongside and hold up two fingers on your hand after the child rides by. Call their name. After 10 or 15 minutes of practice, a 10-year-old should be able to look behind and identify how many fingers you are holding up, all without swerving.
Most crashes in which a car coming up from the rear hits a bike while overtaking happen at night. These overtaking injuries can be serious. Most, however, involve older cyclists; the median age is about 20.
Rule out night riding for your youngster. It requires special skills and equipment. Few kids have either. Make your child understand that, if he or she gets caught out after dark on a bike, the only thing to do is to call you for a ride home. Maybe you could tape telephone money to the bike so that, in an emergency, your child can call.
For adults and teenagers, the first requirement is to be visible – use bright lights and reflectors, and wear light-colored clothes with reflective tape. The second requirement is to watch your shadow in the headlights of overtaking cars. If your shadow moves to the right as the car approaches from the rear, this means it is moving left to pass you. If your shadow stays right in front of you, it means the car is headed straight for you. Get out of the way!
Following the Leader
Many car/bike collisions take place when children are following each other. The first one may run a stop sign and get through. The second one may get hit.
Teach your child always to assess the traffic situation for him or herself. When a group is riding around, each cyclist should stop for stop signs. Each one should scan to the rear before making left turns.
Less than 20 % of reported bicycle injuries involve collisions with cars. Most occur in falls, or as a result of riders losing control. A bad fall can result from a skid, catching a wheel in a crack or even getting a shoelace caught in the chain.
Eighty-five % of bicyclists killed in 2002 reportedly weren’t wearing helmets. In a spill, the forehead usually hits the ground first. Head injuries cause most bicycle-related deaths and can result in serious injury such as brain damage. Most of these serious head injuries could have been prevented by wearing a helmet. Helmets are important for riders of all ages, especially because adult bicyclists represent more than three-quarters of bicycle deaths.
When choosing a helmet, consider the following:
Your child should try on several helmets carefully.
- Level the helmet over your child’s forehead and adjust the chin strap to fit snugly and comfortably. It should protect the forehead without slipping forward or backward; and it should not move unless the scalp moves.
- The helmet should sit two finger widths above the eyebrows.
- A trained salesperson will help you ensure the fit is right.
- Make sure there are no cracks or impressions in the form of an existing helmet.
Insist your child always wears a helmet when riding. (It goes without saying that parents must set an example by always wearing theirs when cycling.) Remember, a helmet only works when you wear it!
Alyssa Mitchell – Health Educator, Summit County Health Department
650 Round Valley Drive, Park City, UT 84060
Phone: 435-333-1508 Fax: 435-333-1580