By Nancy M. Campbell, Safe Kids Southwest Florida (Photos: iStockphoto.com/Wavebreakmedia)
Kids of all ages are hitting the streets on their skateboards, scooters, tricycles, bicycles and anything on wheels. Wait a minute! Before you get started, let’s go over the rules for safety fun first.
The bicycle is the most popular, easily available, second form of mobile transportation out there today. Bike riding is fun, healthy and a great way to get around. Your bike, however, is not a toy — it is a vehicle. So before you even get on your bike — inspect it!
- How are your tires? Fully inflated? In good condition?
- How does the chain look? Does it need a little oil?
- How are your brakes? If you have hand controls, do they glide easily? Do the brakes connect to the tire properly?
- Is your bike the correct height for you? Can your feet reach the ground without tipping to stabilize the bike? Are there several inches between you and the cross bar on the bike?
- Your seat should be flat and level. To make sure it is the right height, your knees should be slightly bent when you pedal.
- Can you be seen when riding your bike? Check your lights and reflectors to make sure you’re visible at all times.
Once you bicycle has passed inspection, it’s time to put your helmet on. Rule No. 1: If you ride a bike, you need to wear a helmet. Why? Wearing a properly fitted helmet certified by the Consumer Product Safety Commission can prevent 85 percent of cyclists’ head injuries, according to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute. There are an unbelievable number of approved helmets on the market — just check the box for the CPSC seal of approval. Today, most bike helmets are made of expanded polystyrene foam — like what your coolers are made of — covered with a strong but thin plastic. On impact, the foam part gets smashed instead of your head. Please remember, if you are in an accident and your helmet sustains a hit, you must replace it. A helmet can only provide adequate care for one impact.
The lower priced helmets are generally one-size-fits-all. You simply adjust the straps and place foam pads inside to snug up the helmet. More expensive helmets come in various sizes. If you want one of these, simply take a tape measure and measure your head to see what size you would take.
It doesn’t matter which kind, style or color helmet you select, fitting them properly is critical. Remember — low, level and snug. Look in a mirror and make sure your helmet is sitting level on your head. The front should cover most of your forehead. Put one finger along your eyebrow and one finger right on top of that, and your helmet should be touching your fingers. Your chin strap should be snug beneath your chin. You should barely be able to slip a finger in between the strap and your chin. The side straps — V point — should be right below your ears. Adjusting these straps will help you tighten the helmet if it shifts forward or backward.
Now that you’re ready to ride, let’s talk road rules. Remember, your bicycle is a vehicle, and you are the driver. So if you are riding in the street, you must obey the same rules a car does. When riding, go with the flow. This means that you travel in the same direction as any other vehicle. A bicycle must obey all street signs, stop signs, traffic signals and markings. Stay alert at all times. Watch for pot holes or cracks in the road that can cause you to lose control. Ride far enough away from parked cars. You never know when someone will step out or open a car door in your path. Watch for pedestrians, especially at crosswalks — they have the right of way. Wear white or light colors so that you stand out as you ride. At night, always wear reflective gear or vest and have lights on your bike for added safety.
Children 10 and younger should never ride in the street without an adult present. They are just not mature enough to make the necessary decisions to ride safely.
Riding on the sidewalk has its cautions, too. Always watch driveways to make sure they are clear, or if a car is idling in the drive, proceed with caution. Always make room for walkers — even getting off your bike to walk past them to make sure no one has an issue. Always stop at street corners to check traffic each way before proceeding.
If you have further questions, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website at nhtsa.gov.
I’m ready to ride, are you? Now, enjoy summer!
Nancy M. Campbell, of Go Logos Inc., writes on behalf of Safe Kids Southwest Florida, a nonprofit coalition of agencies and organizations dedicated to eliminating preventable childhood injuries. Visit safekidsswfl.org.