(O’FALLON, IL) – There are many great reasons to ride a bike, whether you ride one for fun, for exercise, or for environmental reasons. HSHS St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and HSHS Medical Group encourages citizens of all ages, but particularly children, to be safe when riding their bike.
While a properly fitted helmet can cut the risk of head injuries in half, less than half of children 14 and under wear one. As a result, they are in emergency rooms for bicycle-related injuries far more than any other activity, including American football.
According to a 2009 study by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, of the 447,000 sports-related head injuries, about 86,000 (19.2%) are contributed to cycling while just 47,000 (10.5%) are football-related.
Dr. Justin Hill, a new HSHS Medical Group Shiloh Family Practice physician encourages parents to understand the importance of wearing a helmet for members of the whole family, no matter what age. Some tips from safety sites, like Kaiser Permanente and Safe Kids (www.safekids.org) include:
Choosing bright or fluorescent colors so you can be seen at any time of day.
Picking a lightweight, comfortable, and well-ventilated helmet.
Choosing the right helmet for bicycling. Bike helmets are not to be work for any other sport, as the chinstrap can wrap around the neck and cause serious injury.
Replacing any helmet manufactured before the year 1999. Replace it immediately if the helmet takes a hit, as once damaged they can lose their shock absorbing capacity.
“Bike riding can be a fun activity for families to do together. It’s a great activity to get kids off the couch and active,” Dr. Hill noted. “I encourage my patients to do a helmet fit test at home or with a professional at the time of helmet purchase, if it’s offered, so they know the helmet is properly fit for their child and themselves.”
According to Safe Kids, the helmet should sit on top of the head in a level position and should not rock in any direction. The straps must always be buckled, but not too tightly so that it can cause injury. A “Helmet Fit Test” checks areas of eyes, ears, and mouth. The helmet should be no higher than two finger-widths above the eyebrows, the straps should form the shape of a “V”, as well as being snug but comfortable, and helmet straps should be buckled flat against the skin.
Dr. Hill also notes that it is a good idea to ensure that everything on your child's bike works well. “Get in the habit of checking to see that the brakes are working and there are no loose or broken parts before heading out for a ride,” he said.
Learning the rules of the road is another key point in bike safety, and should be known before cycling with traffic. Parents should teach their children to make eye contact with drivers, and to make sure drivers are paying attention and come to a complete stop before the bikers cross the street. Parents should also teach children to ride with traffic, staying as far to the right of the road as possible. Using appropriate hand signals and respecting traffic signals – such as stopping at all signs and red lights – is another vital safety point.
Finally, it is important that children use lights at dusk, dawn, or nighttime. Most states require the use of a front light, as it allows others – including motorists – to see them as they drive. Use of a rear light is optional.
For more information on both bike safety and helmet fitting tips, please visit https://www.safekids.org/tip/bike-safety-tips and https://wa-health.kaiserpermanente.org/bike-safety-for-kids.