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UC Davis Medical Center

UC Davis Medical Center

Give your kids a biking and walking quiz

Checkup on Health

boy with helmet on bike
Children are especially at high risk for bike-related injuries and account for over half of the total seen in U.S. emergency departments every year. Most bicycle-related deaths are from head injuries because the rider was not wearing a helmet.

Back-to-school time means more kids on the neighborhood streets, walking or biking to class. Both are great exercise, good for the environment and give kids a feeling of independence and confidence. But before they head out the door, parents should discuss safety practices that can save their children's lives.

Every year, more than 500,000 people in the United States are treated in emergency departments, and more than 700 people die as a result of bicycle-related injuries. Most of these deaths are from head injuries because the rider was not wearing a helmet.

Children are especially at high risk and account for over half of all bicycle-related injuries seen in U.S. emergency departments every year.

According to Christy Adams, UC Davis injury prevention coordinator, here are questions and answers parents and kids should know:

1. Which side of the street should you be on?

Many kids, especially teens, plunk their helmets on their heads without bothering to clasp the straps. This is about as effective as not wearing a helmet at all. In a crash or fall, the helmet will be knocked off before the child's head hits the ground.

This is a trick question! The answer is different if you are walking or biking. When walking, face the oncoming traffic. But on a bike, always ride with the traffic on the right side of the street, even when using bike lanes.

It's hard for kids who have not yet learned to drive to realize how important this rule is. Teach them that drivers at an intersection are usually looking for cars to their left, and may not notice a bike coming from the wrong direction until it is too late.

2. How do you wear your bike helmet?

Does this sound like a trick question too? It's not. So many kids, especially teens, plunk their helmets on their heads as they run out the door, without bothering to clasp the straps. This is about as effective as not wearing a helmet at all. In a crash or fall, the helmet will be knocked off before the child's head hits the ground.

Parents should insist that their kids wear helmets properly, and periodically check their fit. They should be snug and stable, with no more than two finger spaces between the chin strap and the chin. The helmet should cover most of the top of the head, resting low on the forehead just above the eyebrows. Use the removable Velcro pads that come with helmets to ensure proper fit and comfort.

Children under 18 years are now required under California law to wear bike helmets when cycling. But parents should set a good example and also wear them whenever they get on a bike. A helmet is an essential part of the bike, just like the brakes. Helmets should be ANSI-approved, indicating that they have met safety standards. Don't buy a used helmet at a garage sale or continue to use one that is cracked or damaged.

Lots of auto-bike crashes occur when kids biking on a sidewalk ride into a crosswalk. Kids need to be reminded to look both ways when they come to a crosswalk and walk the bike across the crosswalk, just like a pedestrian would.

3. What should you do when you come to a crosswalk?

Stop and look both ways, right? Almost every preschooler can answer this one correctly, but these basics tend to go out the window as soon as a kid gets on a bike. Lots of auto-bike crashes occur when kids biking on a sidewalk ride into a crosswalk.

Biking on sidewalks is legal if there is no sign posted prohibiting it. It can be safe, especially if there are no bike lanes or if streets are full of traffic. But kids on bikes need to be reminded to look both ways when they come to a crosswalk and walk the bike across the crosswalk, just like a pedestrian would.

4. What should you do as it starts to get dark?

Even though the days are longer, the nights are also getting warmer – and kids should wear light-colored clothing, and put reflectors on wheels, the back of seats and pedals. Older kids allowed to ride at night should check out the new selection of bike lights. Some have bright flashing lights that are especially easy to see.

More resources

  • Visit the UC Davis Trauma Prevention and Outreach program's bike safety page.
  • The Bicycle Safety Institute offers up to date information on how to choose the best helmet for you or your child and how to fit it properly.
  • The California Department of Transportation offers more information on bicycle safety guidelines and California bicycle laws.
  • Head injury prevention education and helmets for children in our partnering communities are available from Trauma Prevention through the Kohl’s Buckle Up to Grow UP program. For more information call 916-734-9798.