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Bicycle Safety

Knowing the rules of bicycle safety can help your child avoid a serious injury. Here are some facts about bicycle injuries:

  • Children ages 5 to 14 have a higher rate of bicycle injuries than older riders.
  • Bicycle injuries in younger children most often result from errors they have made.
  • Injuries to the face and head are the most severe injuries for bicyclists.
  • Fatal injuries are most often caused when a cyclist crosses an intersection without looking for cars, or by drivers who have been drinking alcohol.
  • Children are at risk for injury no matter where they are riding. One study found that children riding in their own neighborhood are just as likely to get hurt as older children who ride further distances.

If your child is learning to ride or already rides a bicycle, here are several safety points that you should consider.

Know the Rules

Bicycle rules need to be appropriate for the age of the child. Children should not ride in the street until they understand and are able to follow the rules of bicycling.

General safety rules:

  • Always wear a helmet.
  • Always wear protective shoes (no bare feet or sandals).
  • Avoid riding at dusk or at night. If a child must ride at night, proper bicycle lights and reflective clothing are important.
  • Never carry another passenger on the bicycle.

Street safety rules:

  • Ride in a single file and only in the direction of traffic.
  • Ride in a straight line while near the curb.
  • Always obey stoplights and stop signs.
  • Never assume that the driver of a car sees you at an intersection.
  • Use good balance and steering, proper hand signals, and brake safely.
  • Get off the bicycle safely.
  • Look behind you when you turn across a traffic lane.

Children may not learn or have the skills needed to ride on the street until age 10. Even after this age, you should periodically check your child's skills. Check to see if your child pays attention to potential dangers such as rocks, tree limbs, and cars exiting driveways or alleys.

Wear a Bicycle Helmet

Helmets are a great way to reduce the risk of serious head injury or death from bicycle accidents. Get a bicycle helmet before your child takes his first bicycle ride. Even a child riding in a bicycle carrier should wear a helmet. A child should always wear a helmet every time she gets onto a bicycle.

Parents can do a lot to encourage a child to wear a helmet. Some ways include:

  • Always wear a helmet yourself when you are riding a bicycle and try to ride with your child.
  • Let your child pick out his or her own helmet.
  • Buy some stickers to "jazz up" a helmet.
  • Praise your child for wearing the helmet. Make sure the helmet fits properly.
  • Always insist that your child put on a helmet before he or she gets onto a bicycle. If your child breaks this rule, don't let your child ride a bicycle for 1 week.

Choose a Proper Bicycle Size and Type

Having the right size of bicycle is important for the safety of your child. Children riding bicycles that are too big for them are injured more often then children with the proper size of bike. Never buy or allow the use of a bicycle that the child will "grow into."

A child should be able to touch both feet on the ground comfortably when standing over the bicycle. The top bar of the bicycle should be at least 1 inch below the crotch while the child is standing. Your child should be able to reach the handlebars comfortably while sitting on the bicycle seat in an upright posture.

Children just learning to ride on streets should use a bike with foot brakes. Foot brakes require less coordination for safe use. Children who can safely ride on roadways can use bicycles with hand brakes and manual gear shifts.

Maintain Your Bicycle

A child or parent should regularly check the bicycle's brakes and tire pressure. If the bicycle has rapid release hubs, check the hubs before each ride. Bicycles with damaged parts such as wheels, spokes, or handlebars should be repaired before they are used again.

For More Information:

For more information on bicycle safety, contact your local bicycle shop or police station. Information on bicycle safety is also available from:

Written by Robert Brayden, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-02-22
Last reviewed: 2008-11-06
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
2010 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All Rights Reserved.
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