Bicycling is safer now than ever before, thanks to helmet awareness and bicycle-safety classes. Still, each year in the United States, more than 200 kids under the age of 15 die from injuries involving bicycles, and an additional 360,000 are treated for serious injury in hospital emergency rooms, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
To protect your young cyclist, make sure that she always wears a helmet properly and follows the "rules of the road." Reinforce these rules by having your child lead a family bike ride so you can keep a watchful eye on her and assess her skills. Praise her when she obeys traffic signs and signals, and point out things she needs to improve on. Here are some road rules to review with your child:
1. Check brakes, and make sure tires are inflated properly and seats are at the correct height before taking a bike ride.
2. Ride in single file and in a straight line on the right-hand side of the road. Make sure hands are always within reach of the hand brakes.
3. Look both ways, and obey all road signs and signals, just like motorists. Dismount, and walk your bike across busy intersections.
4. Use hand signals when turning. For a left turn, put your left arm straight out and parallel to the road. For a right turn, bend the elbow of your left arm so that your forearm and biceps form a 90-degree angle.
5. Keep an eye out for such potential hazards as potholes, sewer grates, uneven pavement, and soft shoulders. Warn riders behind you by calling out these obstacles.
6. Never ride with both hands off the handlebars.
7. When biking, don't wear headphones (they muffle the sound of approaching vehicles) or pants with flared cuffs (they can get caught in the bicycle's chain). Also, refrain from biking at night, when the risk of injury triples.
Buying a Helmet
Quite simply, helmets save lives. If every young cyclist wore one, the injury figures wouldn't be so sobering. Helmet use, according to the CPSC, would have reduced the number of brain injuries that occurred last year by 88 percent, the number of head injuries by 85 percent, and the number of bicycle-related fatalities by 75 percent. But the most somber statistic of all: 75 percent of all riders under age 15 do not wear helmets.
Make sure you buy the right helmet! Here are some tips in choosing one:
1. All bike helmets sold since March 1999 meet the same CPSC safety standards, so there is little functional difference between a $10 model from a discount store and a $100 helmet from a bike shop.
2. Stay away from old helmets, damaged helmets, and helmets designed for other sports.
3. Choose a white or brightly colored helmet, which will help make your child more visible to drivers, pedestrians, and other bikers.
4. Pick a helmet that fits snugly. If it rocks forward, backward, or from side to side, it's too loose. The chin strap, which should be fastened at all times, can be adjusted to provide a tight but comfortable fit for the right-size helmet.
5. Buy your child a helmet that fits now -- not an oversize helmet that he will grow into. Each size should last for at least a couple of years.
Making the Helmet a Habit
How do parents convince their children to put on a helmet? Here are five ways:
1. Don't rattle off grim statistics -- this will only scare your child away from biking.
2. Require her to wear a helmet from day one, and remain firm in your decision, even if your child complains or throws a tantrum.
3. Flatter your child on how "cool" his helmet looks (they do come in a variety of colors and designs).
4. Point out that all Olympic bike racers wear helmets because they're smart and don't want to get hurt.
5. Be a good role model by always wearing a helmet when you ride.
Additional reporting by Bob Cooper
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.