Bicycling can provide you and your child many hours of fun exercise in the fresh air. But, as your child grows in independence, roaming further from home, you will have more peace of mind if you have instilled bicycle safety habits through example and consistency. Bicycle safety activities give your child practical rehearsal of safe cycling habits in a safe environment, which will up the odds that he will stay safe wherever he roams with his wheels.
The most common bicycle safety tip you will hear stresses the importance of wearing a well-fitting bike helmet to prevent serious brain injuries in the event of a crash or fall. According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, your child should be able to see the bottom rim of the helmet while wearing it; the straps should make a "V" under her ears and fit tightly but comfortably; and when she opens her mouth wide, the helmet should hug her head. Take your child to the store and do this helmet fit test check with several different helmets and compare results to select the best helmet for him. Inspect each helmet for a safety sticker from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the Snell Memorial Foundation, American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). Make a habit of wearing your own helmet to set a good example.
Safe Cycling Wear
In addition to helmets, your child's clothes and shoes can also contribute to her safety. A Kids Health article on "Bike Safety" advises kids to wear bright or fluorescent colors for maximum visibility or wear reflective tape. They should also avoid loose-fitting clothes, untied shoes or dangling backpack straps that can get caught in the chain. They continue, "Choose shoes that grip the bike's pedals. Cleats, shoes with heels, or flip-flops can all create problems while riding…and never ride barefoot." Make a game out of proper cycling wear by dressing in various outfits and asking your child to identify any potential safety hazards. Ask your child to select a safe biking outfit and model it for safety inspection.
Where and When to Ride
In the quest to keep your child safe while riding his bike, awareness of his surroundings is as important as what he wears. Teach him to ride in the same direction as traffic, rather than against it, paying attention to all traffic controls and signs. Make eye contact with drivers before walking, not riding, the bike across the street, especially at a busy intersection. Stop and look both directions, not only at intersections, but also at driveways and alleys. Use the bike lane wherever available. When riding in a group, ride in single file. If riding on a sidewalk, watch out for pedestrians to avoid a collision. Avoid riding at dawn and dusk when it will be harder for drivers to see bicyclists. Make a family tradition of cycling together to give your child supervised practice at staying safe on his bike.
Bicyclists are subject to all the same traffic laws as car drivers so familiarize your child with traffic signals and signs such as lights, stop signs, yield, merge, railroad crossings and other traffic indicators. They must also slow or stop for pedestrians as well. Most bikes do not have flashing turn signal or brake lights, so teach your child the hand signals for bike riders to turn left, right or stop. To let your child practice obeying traffic controls in a safe environment, set up a bike obstacle course in a large open space that includes common traffic signs or lights at various points. Have your child ride her bike through the maze, following the directions given by the traffic signs. For instance, directional arrows or printed signs could instruct her to "keep right" at the V in the road. Watch your child's progress through the maze, and give her feedback on how well she followed the traffic rules. If there's room for improvement, let her try again.