Bike helmets spare lives!

According to the National Highway Traffic Administration, 783 bicyclists were killed in 2017, with the majority of accidents occurring in larger cities and towns, as opposed to more rural areas.  A large percentage of these accidents involved motor vehicles. Simple, common-sense measures can ensure that you are able to enjoy cycling without becoming involved in an accident.  

Cycling is an enjoyable activity either alone, or with friends and family.  Some folks compete in races, while some enjoying cycling because it can be easier on joints while still providing all of the benefits of cardiovascular exercise.  Many enjoy cycling with friends and/or family as a way to spend time together while staying active. Regardless of which category you fall into or where you choose to cycle, (on the road, bike path, sidewalks in your city or town, or just around your neighborhood) it is important to remain vigilant, take appropriate safety measures and maintain equipment to prevent accidents from occurring.

The single most important measure you can take is to always wear a properly fitted helmet.  Middle-age bicyclers encompass the largest number of cyclists to be injured or killed. Wearing a helmet is the best way to prevent a head injury, should an accident occur.  In the United States, all helmets must meet the standards of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The National Highway Traffic Administration offers the following information when shopping for a properly fitted helmet:

  • First, measure your head and try several helmets on until you find one that feels comfortable.  Place the helmet level on top of your head and adjust until snug. The helmet should be level on your head, low on your forehead and allow space for one to two fingers to be placed between your eyebrows and the helmet;
  • Next, adjust the side straps.  If the helmet has a lock option, lock the slider in that position;  
  • Buckles should be centered on the chin and are adjusted from the back of the helmet.  The chin strap should be snug, with no more than one or two fingers able to fit under the strap; and
  • Finally, it is imperative to replace a helmet if you have been in an accident.

Adequate preparation is another element of bicycle safety.  Check your equipment to make sure that it is functional, i.e. – adequate amount of air in the tires and checking that the brakes work.  Ensure that shoelaces are secured so as to not become entangled in the bicycle’s wheel spokes or chain and never biking while wearing sandals/flip flops.  When possible, planning a route that typically has less traffic and slower speed limits is a good idea. Of course, there is always the option of cycling on a designated bike path, which obviates the danger associated with motor vehicles.

Once out on the road, it is imperative to follow the rules of the road, which include:

  • Keep both hands on the handlebars with the exception of signaling to turn or stop your bicycle; 
  • Cycle with the flow of traffic, meaning riding in the same direction as the vehicles on the road;
  • As a bicyclist sharing the roadway, you must obey all traffic signs, signals and road markings;
  • Use hand signals to indicate a change in direction or that you will be stopping your bicycle.  When signaling, it is good practice to look over your shoulder to identify any impediment to your changing lanes;
  • Make sure to look left and right when crossing the street or intersection.  Be cautious of motorists who may be pulling in or out of parking spaces and/or driveways or parking garages.  ALWAYS assume that other drivers do not see you and act/react accordingly;
  • NEVER wear headphones, text message on your cell phone, or utilize anything that may distract your attention from your surroundings;
  • Consistently scan the area ahead and around you for potential hazards that may cause you to fall such as pebbles, cracks in the roadway, potholes, grates and train tracks; 
  • Should you choose to cycle in a group, always ride in a single file, straight line; and
  • When cycling at night, early in the morning, or in low visibility conditions, ensure that you wear bright colored clothing during the day and reflective clothing or taping at night.  A front light and rear reflectors should be affixed to the bicycle, itself. An even better safety measure is to purchase a flashing light for the rear of the bicycle.

For those who choose to cycle on a sidewalk or bike path rather than on the roadway, the same tips regarding the rules of the road apply, but there are some additional safety tips which are specific to cycling on a sidewalk or bike path:

  • Be vigilant for pedestrians and always pass with caution while announcing your presence, which is as simple as stating, “Passing on your left.”
  • When crossing a street, look both ways for oncoming traffic before proceeding through an intersection; and
  • Again, as with cycling on the roadway, be vigilant for vehicles that may be backing out of driveways or turning.

The above safety measures may appear to be catered specifically to adults, however, they remain applicable to children.  When purchasing a bicycle for your child, it is important to bring your child along so as to ensure that the bicycle is the right fit, including the child being able to touch the ground while sitting on the bicycle seat.  Most sporting goods stores have professionals who can assist you in selecting the proper bicycle fit for your child.

Riding with your child until they are comfortable enough to ride on their own and riding on sidewalks whenever possible are two important safety measures.  Studies shown that most children are not able to judge speed and distance appropriately enough to safely cycle on their own until age 10. Of course, every child is unique and you shouldn’t allow your child to cycle on their own until you feel comfortable that they are able to make safe judgments and decisions while cycling.  Again, ensuring proper maintenance of the bicycle is of utmost importance. Teach your child to inspect the tires, as well as the brakes on the bicycle.

Once again, a helmet should be worn at all times.  According to the organization Safe Kids Worldwide, wearing a bicycle helmet may reduce the risk of head injuries by at least 45%.  Unfortunately, studies have shown that less than half of children 14 and under regularly wear bike helmets.

Finding the right size helmet is hands-down the most important component of bicycle safety, as discussed.  Once again, make certain that the helmet conforms to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) standards.  The helmet should be in a level position on top of the head and should not be able to move forward, backward, or side to side.  Make sure that your child understands the importance of always buckling the helmet strap. Safe Kids Worldwide recommends the following:

  • EYES check: Position the helmet on the head. Look up: the bottom rim of the helmet should be visible. The rim should be one to two finger-widths above the eyebrows;
  • EARS check: Make sure the straps of the helmet form a “V” under the ears when buckled. The strap should be snug but comfortable; and
  • MOUTH check: Open the mouth as wide as you can. Does the helmet “hug” your head? If not, tighten those straps and make sure the buckle is flat against the skin.

Finally, as well all know, children learn from the behavior of adults.  Make sure that you consistently practice bicycle safety and your children will follow suit.

Cycling can be a fun, enjoyable, heart-healthy activity both individually or as a group, including friends and family.  However, safety measures must be taken to guard against accidents and serious injury. Utilizing the above tips is a good start on the way to becoming a safe and informed cyclist.  Your local sports stores and specialty bike shops should be able to help you in purchasing the correct bicycle for your needs as well as fit you for a helmet. In addition, there are many resources which provide more in-depth detailed information, including: