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Bike Safety

Bike riding is a great way to get exercise and share time as a family. But before you and the kids start pedaling, be sure you're up to date on how to do it safely.

What Should I Know About Bicycle Helmets?

Bicycle helmet use should be mandatory for everyone in your family, no matter where you are or how short the ride. In many states it's the law.

Many bike accidents involve a head injury, so a crash could mean serious brain injury or death for someone who doesn't wear one while riding. Each year in the United States, about half a million kids are seriously injured in bicycle-related accidents, and most of those injuries could have been avoided if a helmet was worn. To protect against brain injury, make sure your kids wear a correctly fitting helmet on every ride.

Here are some things to keep in mind when buying a helmet:

  • Pick bright colors or fluorescent colors that are visible to drivers and other cyclists.
  • Look for a well-ventilated helmet.
  • Make sure that the helmet has a CPSC or Snell sticker inside. These let you know that the helmet meets standards set by trusted safety groups. 
  • Make sure the helmet fits correctly and can be adjusted. Bike stores will help you with this.
  • When kids wear a helmet, make sure that the straps are fastened. Also make sure they don't wear any other hat underneath it.
  • Be sure to replace any helmet made before 1999.
  • If your child hits any surface hard while wearing a helmet, replace it. Helmets lose their ability to absorb shock after taking serious hits.

Which Clothes Are Safe While Biking?

What kids wear when riding a bike is also very important for safety:

  • Fluorescent or bright-colored clothes will help kids be visible on the road, and they’re more visible than white clothes. (Avoid dark clothes, especially during early dusk and twilight hours.)
  • Wear something that helps to reflect light, like reflective tape.
  • Lightweight clothes will help them avoid becoming overheated.
  • Pant legs shouldn't be too loose or flared. These can get caught up in the chain while riding.
  • If your child wears a backpack while riding, make sure the straps are tied up and can't get tangled in the spokes of the wheels. Keep the backpack as light as possible.
  • Choose shoes that grip the bike's pedals. Cleats, shoes with heels, or flip-flops can all create problems while riding. Kids should never ride barefoot!

Rules of the Road for Bike Riding

Here are some must-know safety tips to teach kids:

  • Stop at all stop signs and obey traffic lights just as cars do. Yield to pedestrians, stop at red lights, and be especially careful at intersections.
  • Always ride in the same direction as cars do. Never ride against traffic.
  • Older kids should try to use bike lanes or designated bike routes whenever they can — not the sidewalk! Kids younger than 10 should ride on the sidewalk.
  • Never ride at dusk or in the dark.
  • Always stop and check for traffic in both directions when leaving a driveway, an alley, or a curb.
  • Watch traffic closely for turning cars or cars leaving driveways.
  • Don't ride too close to parked cars — doors can open suddenly.
  • Always walk a bike across busy intersections using the crosswalk and following traffic signals.
  • When riding in a group, always ride single file on the street.
  • When passing other bikers or people on the street, always pass to their left and call out "On your left!" so they'll watch for you.
  • Never share the seat with a friend or ride on the handlebars — only one person should be on a bike at a time. It's easy to lose balance or suddenly swerve into traffic when riding with a passenger.
  • Never wear headphones while biking — it's very important to hear everyone else on the road at all times.
  • Never stand up while riding a bike.
  • Never hitch a ride on a moving vehicle.

Signal Your Turns!

It's important for kids to know the arm signals for changing direction or turning. Make sure they know to never change directions or lanes without first looking behind them, and to always use the correct signals.

Use the left arm for all signals:

  • Left turn: After checking behind you, hold your arm straight out to the left and ride forward slowly.
  • Stop: After checking behind you, bend your elbow, pointing your arm downward in an upside down "L" shape and come to a stop.
  • Right turn: After checking behind you, bend your elbow, holding your arm up in an "L" shape, and ride forward slowly. (Or, hold your right arm straight out from your side.)

One of the best ways to help kids learn safe bike riding is to set a good example by following the rules of the road yourself. Most important, always wear your helmet.

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date Reviewed: 01-02-2019

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