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Bicycle Safety

In 2001, nearly 314,600 children ages 14 and under were treated in hospital emergency rooms for bicycle-related injuries. Nearly half (47 percent) of children ages 14 and under hospitalized for bicycle-related injuries are diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. Of these 758 children died. 758.

Bicycle Injuries

Bicycles are associated with more childhood injuries than any other consumer product except the automobile. With more than 70 percent of children ages 5 to 14 (27.7 million) riding bicycles, this age group rides 50 percent more than the average bicyclist and accounts for approximately 21 percent of all bicycle-related deaths and nearly half of all bicycle-related injuries.

Head injuries are the leading cause of death in bicycle crashes and the most important determinant of bicycle-related death and permanent disability. Head injuries account for more than 60 poercent of bicycle-related deaths, more than two-thirds of bicycle-related hospital admissions and about one-third of hospital emergency room visits for bicycling injuries.

The single most effective safety device available to reduce head injury and death from bicycle crashes is a helmet. Helmet use reduces the risk of bicycle-related death and injury and the severity of head injury when a crash occurs. Unfortunately, national estimates report that bicycle helmet use among child bicyclist ranges only from 15 to 25 percent.

Children can be seriously hurt from colliding with handlebars during a fall, even in low speed bike crashes. One national study of seriously injured bicyclists found that handlebar impacts accounted for 22 percent of injuries among nonhead-injured children. Improper bicycle sizing may predispose a child to falling and expose more of his trunk to the handlebar.

When and Where Bicycle-Related Deaths and Injuries Occur

Children are more likely to die from motor vehicle-related bicycle crashes at nonintersection locations (74 percent), during the months of April through October (81 percent) and between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. (55 percent).

Nearly 60 percent of all childhood bicycle-related deaths occur on minor roads.The typical bicycle/motor vehicle crash occurs within 1 mile of the bicyclist’s home.

Children ages 4 and under are more likely to be injured in nonstreet locations around the home (e.g., driveway, garage, yard) than are children ages 5 to 14.

Children ages 14 and under are nearly four times more likely to be injured riding in non-daylight hours (e.g., at dawn, dusk or night) than during the daytime.

Among children ages 14 and under, more than 80 percent of bicycle-related fatalities are associated with the bicyclist’s behavior, including riding into a street without stopping, turning left or swerving into traffic that is coming from behind, running a stop sign, and riding against the flow of traffic.

Who is at Risk

Children ages 14 and under are five times more likely to be injured in a bicycle-related crash than older riders.

Males account for 82 percent of bicycle-related deaths and 70 percent of nonfatal injuries among children ages 14 and under.Children ages 10 to 14, especially males, have the highest death rate of all ages from bicycle-related head injury.

Bicycle Helmet Effectiveness

Bicycle helmets have been shown to reduce the risk of head injury by as much as 85 percent and the risk of brain injury by as much as 88 percent. Bicycle helmets have also been shown to offer substantial protection to the forehead and midface.

It is estimated that 75 percent of bicycle-related fatalities among children could be prevented with a bicycle helmet.

Universal use of bicycle helmets by children ages 4 to 15 could prevent between 135 and 155 deaths, between 39,000 and 45,000 head injuries, and between 18,000 and 55,000 scalp and face injuries annually.

Child helmet ownership and use increases with the parent’s income and education level, yet decreases with the child’s age. Children are more likely to wear a bicycle helmet if riding with others (peers or adults) who are also wearing one.In a national survey of children ages 8 to 12, 53 percent reported that a parental rule for helmet use would persuade them to wear a helmet, and 49 percent would wear a helmet if a state or community law required it.

Bicycle Helmet Laws and Regulations

Currently, 19 states, the District of Columbia and numerous localities have enacted some form of bicycle helmet legislation, most of which cover only young riders. At least five states now require children to wear a helmet while participating in other wheeled sports (e.g., for scooters, inline skates, skateboards).

Helmet Laws for Bicycle Riders lists the state laws that currently exist. Various studies have shown bicycle helmet legislation to be effective at increasing bicycle helmet use and reducing bicycle-related death and injury among children covered under the law.One example shows that in the five years following the passage of a state mandatory bicycle helmet law for children ages 13 and under, bicycle-related fatalities decreased by 60 percent. Police enforcement increases the effectiveness of these laws.

One recent study reported that the rate of bicycle helmet use by children ages 14 and under was 58 percent greater in a county with a fully comprehensive bike helmet law than in a similar county with a less comprehensive law.

The best way to keep your child safe is to ensure they are wearing an approved bicycle safety helmet each time they venture out on their bike.

Other factors, however, figure into bicycle safety. Education is one of them.

Education

Education should begin as soon as a child is put on a bicycle. This often begins with a child carrier behind a parent when a child is over a year old and well able to hold its head up by itself.

Child carriers look easy, but they throw off the entire center of balance of a bicycle. Ensure you are strong enough to handle one by installing it and putting in the weight of your child (flour sacks or other weight) and trying it out before you venture out with your child. You may find you do not have the bodily strength to handle the child carrier. Don't see this as a failure. It's much better to find out this way than with your precious live cargo on board. A trailer or side car may be more easily managed, though they require special practice too. Men may have the bodily strength to handle this easier than women, especially petite woman. Again, there is no shame in this.

When children are able to begin to ride their own two-wheeler, keep them in garages and driveways and parks. The "rails to trails" program is an excellent safe place away from automobiles for families to bike once children are ready to venture into "traffic" with their families. They shouldn't venture onto the street until around age 9. This should be standing rule in the family and one children understand is without exception, if it means locking their bikes up except under supervision.

Children should be able to maintain a straight line, stop, start, turn before entering any traffic zone including "rails to trails." Although other experienced bicyclists will hopefully be vigilent for falls in front of them, there's always the chance someone will not be and may not avoid a child falling in front of them.

The bike and helmet should be fitted especially for each child. Peer pressure plays a big part in older children shedding their helmets once out of parent's sight. Forming a "block watch" among parents whose children ride together can help assure children riding without helmets are stopped by parents and helmet-wearing contracts signed with the children with potential consequences such as losing their bicycling privileges. A few days on foot can be a big incentive to wear the helmet. Encourage children to add their favorite stickers, decorate the helmets to their individual tastes.

Above all, be an example. Wear your own helmet when you bicycle.