Bicycling tips to stay safe

Wearing a helmet is an effective way to stay safe

The single most effective safety device available to reduce head injury and death from bicycle crashes is a helmet. Make it a rule: every time you and your child ride a bike, wear a bicycle helmet that meets the safety standards developed by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. If your child is reluctant to wear a helmet, try letting him or her choose his own.

Find the right size helmet

Make sure the helmet fits and your child knows how to put it on correctly. A helmet should sit on top of the head in a level position, and should not rock forward, backward or side to side. The helmet straps must always be buckled but not too tightly. Use the Eyes, Ear and Mouth test to find the proper fitting helmet.

  • Eyes: Position the helmet on your head. Look up and you should see the bottom rim of the helmet. The rim should be one to two finger-widths above the eyebrows.
  • Ears: Make sure the straps of the helmet form a "V" under your ears when buckled. The strap should be snug but comfortable.
  • Mouth: Open your mouth as wide as you can. Do you feel the helmet hug your head? If not, tighten those straps and make sure the buckle is flat against your skin.

Use different helmets for different activities. Children should always wear a helmet for all wheeled sports activities. A properly-fitted bike helmet is just as effective when riding a scooter, roller skating or inline skating. However, when skateboarding and long boarding, make sure your child wears a skateboarding helmet.

Proper equipment fit and maintenance

  • Ensure proper bike fit by bringing the child along when shopping for a bike. Buy a bicycle that is the right size for the child, not one he will grow into. When sitting on the seat, the child’s feet should be able to touch the ground.
  • Make sure the reflectors are secure, brakes work properly, gears shift smoothly and tires are tightly secured and properly inflated.

Road rules, inclement weather and kids riding alone

Learn the rules of the road, and obey all traffic laws

  • Ride on the right side of the road, with traffic, not against. Stay as far to the right as possible.
  • Use appropriate hand signals.
  • Respect traffic signals, stopping at all stop signs and stop lights.
  • Stop and look left, right and left again before entering a street or crossing an intersection. Look back and yield to traffic coming from behind before turning left.

Adult supervision of child cyclists is essential

  • An adult should supervise a child cyclists until the adult is sure the child has good traffic skills and judgment.
  • Cycling should be restricted to off-roads (e.g. sidewalks and paths) until age 10.
  • Children should be able to demonstrate riding competence and knowledge of the rules of the road before cycling with traffic.

Riding outdoors in dark, in foggy or inclement weather

  • Children should not ride when it’s dark, in foggy weather or in other low-visibility conditions.
  • If riding at dusk, dawn or in the evening is unavoidable, use a light on the bike and make sure it has reflectors as well.
  • Wear clothes and accessories that have retroreflective materials to improve biker visibility to motorists.

Kids riding alone

Parents and caregivers should be aware of the risks associated with bike riding. Among all recreational sports, bicycling is the leading cause of emergency department visits for children and adolescents. Most children who are killed in bike crashes are 7 to 12 years old, and traumatic brain injury accounts for two-thirds of all bike-related deaths.

The issue is not whether the child has and wears a safety- approved helmet. It is what the child is capable of doing safely while wearing one. Parents and caregivers should ride with children for supervision and to model safe cycling behaviors.

Safe Kids USA’s policy is that, keeping in mind the range of traffic patterns and driver behavior, adults should watch children carefully to assess their bike riding and traffic negotiation abilities and skills. Until children are able to negotiate traffic, understand risk and judge speed (at least age 10), they should not ride unsupervised.

Use of Jogging Strollers and Child Bike Seats and Trailers

A parent or caregiver with children too young to bike on their own may use a child bike seat or trailer to transport them while riding. Similarly, a parent or caregiver who enjoys jogging may use a jogging stroller to bring a child along on a run.

These transports are not appropriate for use by every child. Manufacturer consensus is that jogging strollers should not be used for children less than 6 months old. Also, children under age 1 should not ride on a bike or bike seat or in a bike trailer. Children younger than these age limits may not be physically developed enough to travel safely and comfortably in these transports.

Safe Kids USA’s policy is that parents and caregivers must always follow developmental guidelines and manufacturer’s instructions for the child transport. The parent or caregiver should also be an experienced, comfortable bicyclist or jogger before transporting a child.

When riding on a bike or in a bike trailer, a child should wear a properly fitted helmet. Children too small to wear a helmet correctly should wait before riding. Parents should ensure that the child is able to sit upright without physical support and hold his or her head upright with a helmet on it.

Safe Kids recommends using bike flags and reflectors or lights to increase a child’s visibility.

Safe Kids USA resources

  • Bicycle, Skate and Skateboard Safety - PDF
  • Bicycle ABC Quick Check - PDF
  • Find the Right Helmet worksheet - PDF
  • Safety on Wheels Activity and Coloring book - PDF (ENG) | PDF (SPA)
  • Bicyclists Make Safe Choices flyer - PDF
  • Bike and Wheeled Sports Safety brochure - PDF (ENG) | PDF (SPA)
  • Bike and Wheeled Sports Safety flyer - PDF
  • Bike Rodeo Station guide - PDF
  • Five Steps to Riding Better - View in Google Docs
  • How to Fit a Helmet - National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - PDF (ENG) | PDF (SPA)
  • Properly Fitting Helmet flyer - PDF
  • Paul’s A-Maze-ing Trip worksheet - PDF | Answers PDF
  • Sara and her Bike worksheet - PDF

Other online resources - South Carolina Bike Laws
Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals
Bicycle Safety Institute
Consumer Product Safety Commission
League of American Bicyclists
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration