Cycling is a great way for kids to stay active and get their recommended dose of activity. Keep ’em safe by ensuring they’re wearing a helmet correctly.
By: Alannah Manfredi, social worker, Renown Children’s Hospital
Riding bikes: It’s a great way for kids to get around the neighborhood, it’s good exercise and pedaling is just plain fun — especially as the weather turns warmer and the days stay light longer.
But it’s important for people of all ages to remember that a bicycle is not a toy. It’s a vehicle and it can cause injury. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, apart from motor vehicles kids sustain more injuries from bikes than any other consumer product. Each year, 300,000 kids go to the ER due to injuries from bike accidents, with head injuries being the most common and most serious. Fortunately, cuts, bruises and even broken bones can be fixed after a bike injury, but that’s not always the case with serious head injuries. That’s why wearing a helmet — no matter your age — is so important.
According to Safe Kids, simply wearing a helmet reduces your child’s risk of head injury by as much as 85 percent. Taking a few seconds to strap on a helmet should become a habit for kids and parents alike, no matter how short the bike ride. With more people and cars on the road, more pavement and more accidents, it just makes sense. Yet 55 percent of U.S. children do not wear a helmet when riding. You can help improve that statistic starting right in your own home.
Make sure your child wears a helmet designed specifically for cycling and approved by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. You want the helmet to fit snugly without rocking from side to side. It should sit low on the forehead — just one or two fingers width above the eyebrows, providing maximum coverage and protection without impeding vision. The back of the helmet needs to cover the bony part of the skull, and when buckled no more than one finger should fit between the strap and your child’s chin. When you buy your child’s helmet, ask the sales associate to help you get the right fit so you know your child is safe from day one.
There’s no question — wearing a helmet is the most important thing when it comes to bike safety. But it’s also just one component of the whole cycling safety picture. You need to think about the size and safety of the bike itself. Your child should be able to stand with both feet flat on the ground while straddling the bike. It should have reflectors in the front, rear and in the spokes, and always make sure the tires are properly inflated.
Children should ride on the sidewalk, if possible. If they have to ride on the road, make sure your kids know and obey the rules of the road. They should ride with traffic, staying as far right as possible. Teach them to ride in a straight line, avoid swerving, keep at least one hand on the handlebars and signal when turning. Children who cannot make hand signals and keep control of their bike shouldn’t ride in the street until they’re ready.
It’s also important to stay alert and watch for car doors opening and other potential hazards such as potholes or broken glass. Children should always look to the left, right and behind them before turning or merging. And, if possible, it’s best to avoid biking at night.
According to the CDC, youth biking fatalities have dropped 90 percent since 1977. We want to continue improving upon that statistic by teaching all kids to bike safely and make sure they wear helmets. Ride with your kids when you can and let them see you wearing a helmet. In turn, you’ll create lifelong safety habits.
This story was also published in the Reno Gazette-Journal’s Health Source on May 28, 2017.