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Bike Safety 101 for Kids: Essential Tips

Published on Jul. 27, 2021

Bike riding is a great outdoor hobby for kids. Not just a fun way to get some exercise, bike riding also provides an opportunity for children to exert some independence. But a bike is a vehicle, not a toy. So you and your child need to know how to ride safely. The three most important things you can do to keep your child safe include:

  1. Have your child wear a helmet every time he or she rides a bike. No exceptions.
  2. Teach your child the rules of the road to keep him or her safe while riding on the street.
  3. Make sure your child has the right equipment, in good working order.

Read on for more essential tips about bike safety and children.


Bike helmet safety

One of the biggest risks from bicycle incidents is permanent brain injury. Wearing a helmet the right way greatly lessens your child’s chances of having a brain injury. Be sure to do the following:

 Helmets are a must. Have your child wear a helmet every time he or she rides a bike. Ideally, start your child wearing a helmet at an early age – even when he/she starts riding a tricycle.

Make sure the helmet is appropriate for the size and/or age of your child and fits well. It should be level on top of the head, about two finger-widths above the eyebrows. It should not rock back and forth or side to side. The strap should be buckled and snug under the chin. For more information on helmet fit, visit www.nhtsa.gov and search for “bicycle helmet fit.”

Try before you buy. If you can, take the child to the store to try on the helmet before you buy it so you find one that fits well. Also, a child who chooses his or her own helmet may be more likely to wear it. If you can’t bring your child to the store, measure his or her head before going to the store.

Make sure there is a CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) sticker on the helmet. This means the helmet meets the CPSC standard for safety.

Don’t use a helmet that has been in a crash. Discard it and buy a new one. A damaged helmet may not offer protection.

Set a good example. Wear a helmet yourself!


The rules of the road

Learning safety early can help ensure a lifetime of safe bicycle riding. Before your child starts riding, be sure to teach him or her the rules of riding. These include:

Using hand signals

Hand signals let car drivers know what a bicyclist plans to do. Hand signals include:

  • Left turn: Left arm extended straight out
  • Right turn: Left arm bent up at the elbow, or right arm extended straight out
  • Stopping: Left arm bent down at the elbow

Avoiding road riding

As a rule, children under 10 years old should ride on the sidewalk, rather than the road (even in the bike lane). Use your best judgment about whether your child is ready to ride on the road. Make sure he or she can demonstrate the skill and knowledge needed to keep safe.

Staying alert

Before pulling into the street at an intersection, a bike rider should always:

  • Stop, look left, look right, and look left again.
  • Look back and yield to any traffic coming from behind.
  • Young children should always walk bikes through intersections.
  • Bike riders should always watch for cars coming out of driveways, parking spaces, and parking lots.

Obeying signage and traffic signals

  • Bike riders should understand and obey all street signs, traffic lights, and crossing signals.
  • Bikes should always be ridden in the direction of traffic, never against it. They should also be ridden on the right side of the road.
  • A bike rider should always assume that a driver can’t see him or her unless the driver makes eye contact.

Choosing the right bike-riding equipment

Make sure your child’s bike is the correct size. A bike that’s too big makes injuries more likely. So how can you tell if the bike is the right size? Your child’s feet should reach the ground when he or she is seated. Don’t purchase a bike that your child will “grow into.”

Make sure the type of bike matches your child’s abilities. For example, gears and shifting can be confusing for a young child. Start your child with a one-speed and work up.

Keep the bicycle in good repair. Inspect it often. Things to check include the brakes, the tire pressure, and the tightness of the chain.

Make sure your child wears the right clothing. Your child should wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes. No flip-flops or bare feet. Loose-fitting clothing should be avoided because it could become caught in tire spokes.

Make sure your child can be seen easily. Dress your child in bright-colored or reflective clothing. Don’t allow him/her to ride when it’s dark. And if your child must ride at dawn or dusk, make sure he or she uses reflectors and lights.

Make sure your child never wears headphones while riding. Your child needs to be able to hear oncoming traffic. Additionally, if the headphones fall off, they could get tangled in the bike’s wheels and causing an accident.


More tips for kids bicycle safety

First, model good behavior. For instance, when riding your own bike, make sure you stop fully at all stop signs. This teaches your child that “rolling” through stop signs is not acceptable. Older siblings can also act as role models for younger ones. This “peer-to-peer” guidance can be helpful.

Next, teach your child safe control of the bicycle. Coach and continue to reiterate the importance of keeping both hands should be kept on the bike’s handlebars. Books and other items should be carried in a backpack or a basket attached to the bike. Finally, only one person should ride a bike at a time – no exceptions.

Make sure your child understands that he/she should always ask for permission before heading out for a bike ride. Give permission only if your child will be accompanied by a fellow rider.

Finally, be firm since so much is at stake. Let your child know that the rules must be followed, or else he or she doesn’t ride. Some kids, especially tweens (kids between 10 and 12 years old), think it’s “uncool” to wear a helmet. Let them know they can’t ride a bike without wearing a helmet.


Additional Resources for parents and caregivers

Norte

Norte is the Grand Traverse region’s bike-centric, youth-focused advocacy organization. Click here to learn more.

Other Resources

You can also look for local bicycle education classes that teach kids proper riding and traffic skills. Check out www.safekids.org or www.bikeleague.org for more information.


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