The Top 3 Ways to Make Children Safer Riding Bikes
We've all been there. Your little one is finally ready to take off on their bike and join the great big world of big kids. But how do you make sure they're safe while still getting to experience the excitement of riding on their own? Every kid is different and has different levels of risk aversion (or lack thereof, I've got a few of those!) but there are 3 fundamental things you can do to prepare your kid for biking in a safe way starting from toddlers on a balance bike to older kids just getting off their training wheels.
Wear A Helmet!!
Yup, this one should go without saying, but there are only 22 states in the US that have helmet laws. Helmets have been proven to reduce fatalities and severe head trauma, but for some reason we still haven't accepted them as a societal norm. A nationwide survey found that only 29% of kids say they wear a helmet (this in contrast to the 41% of parents who think their child wears a helmet). This means that your child has a good chance of being in a friend group that doesn't wear helmets and could face some peer pressure to do the same.
So how do you get your child to wear their helmet? If you're starting with a youngster, start them out with one and never waiver on the requirement that it be worn. In our house, if you're on wheels, you wear a helmet, period. Bikes, scooters, rollerblades, skateboard, balance bikes, tricycle, it doesn't matter what the wheels are. And we model that same behavior. If we come up with an excuse to not wear a helmet (only going down the block, just trying it out, etc.) then our kids will find their own excuses to not wear one.
Education goes a long way as well. Be honest with your kids about why it's important to wear a helmet. You don't have to create a graphic slideshow or anything (well, maybe it would be effective for teens!), but be upfront about the risks and consequences of riding without a helmet. Use personal stories if you have them. Even young kids can understand the basic concept of getting hurt.
Make Them Visible
Kids have a tendency to be small and hard to see, especially from a car. They don't always follow predictable patterns of movement and they don't always follow the rules of the road (more on that in a bit). So after having a helmet on, make them visible! Neon and fluorescent safety fabric that reflects light is your best bet. Studies have even shown that when the safety fabric is in motion (on limbs or flags) it's up to 3x more visible sooner than when it's on the torso (like a vest or shirt). Our eyes are naturally drawn to motion, and even more to bright objects in motion. So make your child something that a driver's eyes will naturally be drawn to see. A child that is visible will always be safer than one that isn't!
Check out the Kideaux Dragon! It makes your child dramatically more visible and is super fun- and easy!!- to wear!
Teach Your Child the Rules of the Road
This can be tough when we're talking about 3 and 4 year old children, but even then, you can start somewhere. Basic ideas like flow of traffic, stop signs, and crosswalks can be taught from toddlerhood. I will always remember the directive from my mom before heading out to play- "Look both ways before crossing the street!" This is a concept that can and HAS to be ingrained from the very beginning of outdoor play. In the US, it's- Look to the Left (closest oncoming traffic), Look to the Right (cross traffic), Look to the Left one more time, then cross. Little ones don't always know left from right, but if the pattern is always the same, they'll pick it up pretty quick.
A key part of teaching kids to be safe while riding their bikes is the understanding of how cars are using the roads. Make a game of it, or make it a part of everyday conversation. Talk about how the cars move and drive on each side of the road. How they stop at stop signs, use their signals before turning, and even more important, how they don't always do those things. If kids can learn from a young age that cars have rules to follow, but that they don't always follow them, it helps in getting your kids to understand their job in keeping themselves safe. They have to be aware. They have to assume the cars don't see them. They have to assume the car will not follow the rules.
It's important to start young and be consistent when comes to teaching our kids to be safe. You don't have to be a helicopter parent to want to raise kids that are risk aware and safety conscious. We all want our kids to grow up into strong, independent and brave adults. That starts with teaching them how to keep themselves safe and be aware of the risks.