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Mother helping son wearing helmet for cycling

Bike and Helmet Safety for Kids

By Dr. Katherine Urban, Pediatric Specialists

The first time a child pedals a bike is a milestone parents love to capture on camera. It’s also the perfect time for you to begin teaching bicycle safety habits that can protect your children should they ever fall off their bike or experience a more serious accident.

In the United States, roughly 1,000 children are rushed to emergency centers every day because they were involved in a bicycle accident. You can help keep your children stay safe by ensuring they use proper equipment and follow important safety rules every time they take their bike out for a ride.

Consider these helpful tips:

Always wear a helmet.

A helmet is the most important safety device available to prevent head injury and death from a bicycle crash. Helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 85 percent. Children whose parents wear a helmet while riding a bike are 90 percent more likely to wear a helmet, too.

Choose carefully when purchasing a helmet.

Purchase helmets that meet standards of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Check inside the helmet for a label certifying this. Do not buy helmets that are previously used, because you cannot tell if they meet safety standards or if they have a crash history. A helmet that has been in a serious fall or crash should be replaced, as it may not provide adequate protection in another crash.

Make sure the helmet fits.

A helmet should not rock back and forth or side to side and should fit squarely on top of your child’s head. It should cover the top of the forehead but not slide down over the child’s eyes when pushed or pulled. The chin strap should fit snugly, allowing only one to two finger widths between the strap and the chin.

Use safety accessories.

Bicycles should have at least one white front reflector and a red rear reflector. Pedals should have reflectors, too. Daytime riding is the safest. Avoid riding at dusk and later. If your family is riding at dawn or dusk, use a headlight on each bicycle and wear reflective (not just light-colored) clothing.

Choose the best bike for your child’s size and abilities.

Your child should be able to straddle the bike with both feet flat on the ground. When seated, your child’s foot should reach the pedal at its lowest position. Handlebars should be set with the grips at seat level. Most children lack the hand size or strength to squeeze handbrakes, making pedal brakes a better choice. Use handbrakes only when the child is comfortable and skilled in balance, riding in a straight line, and stopping. Click here for more bike buying tips.

Keep the bike in working order.

Make sure the seat, handlebars, and wheels fit tightly. Check and oil the chain regularly. Check brakes to be sure they work well. Check air pressure and wear on tires.

Safety on the road.

Be sure your child does not wear long or loose-fitting clothes while riding as they can get caught in the chain and spokes of the bike. Teach children to use bike paths and avoid roads with heavy traffic. Children younger than 10 years old should never be allowed on the road. After age 10, let your child’s level of maturity guide your decisions. When a child is allowed to ride on the road, teach them these rules:

  • Ride on the right side of the road with the traffic flow, not against it.
  • Obey all traffic signs and signals.
  • Stop and look both ways before entering or crossing a street.
  • Enter streets only at intersections and crosswalks.
  • Yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and skaters.

Remember, helmets are the most effective way to prevent a head injury when riding a bike, in-line skating, skateboarding, or using a scooter.

Your child’s pediatrician should be your primary source of advice about your child’s health.

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About CHKD Medical Group

About CHKD Medical  Group Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters has been the region’s most trusted name in pediatric care for more than 50 years. As members of CHKD Health System, our pediatricians work closely with CHKD’s full range of pediatric specialists and surgeons. They also share a commitment to quality, excellence and child-centered care. With 18 practices in 29 locations throughout the region, a CHKD pediatrician is never far.