Bike Safety: The Power of Safe Pedaling

Bike safety tips from experts at Stanford Childrens Health

Nothing says freedom and fun like riding a bike. Summertime is prime time to venture down a neighborhood road or take a family bike ride on an area trail. In honor of national bike month, learn about bike safety from experts in the Injury Prevention Programs at Stanford Children’s Health and Stanford Health Care, By doing these activities with your children, you’ll teach them a lifetime of safe bike riding practices.

First up, fit your helmet

Think head first when it comes to bike safety. Wear a helmet every time you ride, even during a quick trip around the block. Recent studies show that only 40-60% of U.S. children wear helmets, according to Angela Lumba-Brown, MD, a pediatric emergency medicine physician who cares for children and young adults in the Stanford Pediatric Emergency Department. In California, it’s the law for those under age 18, and it protects the brain.

“Research reports that despite parent’s best efforts to caution their children on safe bike-riding practices, children may not fully grasp their messaging or follow the rules,” says Lumba-Brown. “Modelling safe bicycle practices with your child when riding bikes together as a family is an important way of supervising and demonstrating injury-preventing habits. In fact, 90% of children are more likely to wear their helmets when their parents consistently do so as well.”

Explain to your child that a helmet is like a key to a car—it must be on before you can start up a bike. Let your face guide you when fitting a helmet:

  • Head: Adjust the tension at the back of the helmet and add pads until it fits snugly.
  • Eyes: Put the helmet on your head. There should be a two-finger width between your eyebrows and the helmet.
  • Ears: Make sure the straps of the helmet form a ‘Y’ below your ears. The straps should be snug but comfortable.
  • Mouth: Open your mouth as wide as you can. Do you feel the helmet hug your head? If not, tighten the straps.

Before you go, check your bike

By making sure your bike is in good working order, you’ll prevent unpleasant surprises. When you get your bike out, do an ABC Quick Check:

  • Air – Are the tires properly inflated?
  • Brakes – Do the brakes work?
  • Chains & Cranks – Are the chains oiled and cranks secure?
  • Quick – Is the quick release lever that holds the wheels in place securely closed?
  • Check – Take a quick, slow ride around to make sure everything is working properly.
When you get on your bike, ensure bike safety with an ABC Quick Check.

Also, make sure the bike frame fits your body. It’s tempting to pass down bikes instead of getting ones that fit, yet bikes that are too big can cause kids to lose control.  

Give safety a hand 

Before giving older kids the go ahead to venture out, take family rides to practice hand signals and the rules of the road. Ideally, put one adult in front and one in the rear. The use of hand signals limits car-bike accidents and gives you confidence that you’ve been seen. There are three main hand signals to ensure bike safety: left, right and slow/stop. There are two ways to signal right, so pick your favorite.

Use of hand signals limits car-bike accidents.

Rule the road

In California, bikers must follow the same rules on the road as drivers. Stay safe by learning where to ride, respecting road signs, and riding defensively—never assuming a driver sees you. Learn these bike safety rules and make them automatic when you ride:

  • Ride in the same direction as cars. A common cause of injury is wrong-way riding. Go with the flow of traffic.  
  • Ride on the road. Sidewalks are for pedestrians going the speed of walking.
  • Leave your earbuds at home. Music’s fun, but save it for a dance party. Riding with earphones in both ears is not only dangerous, it’s illegal.

Besides these rules, remind your kids to never hitch on cars or double ride with a friend.

The Childhood Injury Prevention Program at Stanford Children’s Health is dedicated to keeping kids safe. The program plays a key role in reducing harm to Bay Area children. For more bike safety tips, visit our website.

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