Skip to main content
UC Davis Health System

UC Davis Health System

Give your kids a biking and walking quiz

Photo of children riding bikes Now that school is back in session, parents should reinforce bike riding and walking safety to their children.

It's back-to-school time, and kids are back on the streets … at least as they travel to and from school! Walking or biking to school is great exercise, good for the environment, and gives kids a feeling of independence and confidence. But as the school year gets under way, parents should discuss safety practices that can save their children's lives. According to Roxanne Woods, UC Davis Trauma Prevention and Outreach Coordinator, here are questions and answers parents and kids should know:

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

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 carry a Snell sticker, indicating that they have met the strictest safety standards. Don't buy a used helmet at a garage sale or continue to use one that is cracked or damaged.

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?

Parents need to help kids move around safely as the time changes. The number of crashes between bikes and cars always goes up during the fall as the days get shorter. 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.