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Welcome to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC’s podcast series. Today we’re talking about bike safety. And while we’re talking about bikes and some of the steps that parents and kids can take to stay safe, most of the points we’ll make also apply to skateboards, scooters and other riding equipment with wheels.
Riding bicycles is a great way for kids to get outside and enjoy in some healthy play with friends. Following a few important rules and using common sense will help reduce accidents and injuries.
Today we’re talking with Dr. Barbara Gaines director of the Benedum Pediatric Trauma Program and a pediatric trauma surgeon at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.
Hello Dr. Gaines. What are some important bike safety rules?
Dr. Gaines: Well, the most important rule for kids riding bikes, even if they’re just starting out on training wheels, is to wear a good helmet. Our own experience at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC shows that wearing helmets will greatly reduce the chances of head injury and brain damage if your child gets into an accident on their bike.
More than three-quarters of the kids we see in our emergency room with serious head injuries from biking accidents have not been wearing helmets, so we know that wearing a helmet is a good idea. It’s also required by law in Pennsylvania and many other states that kids under twelve must wear a helmet when riding a bike.
Host: What size helmet should I get for my child?
Dr. Gaines: Picking the right size helmet is probably the most important part of buying a helmet. The helmet should fit flat on the top of the child’s head, but not too loosely. Don’t buy a larger helmet that your child will grow into, because it won’t provide the necessary protection. Buy the helmet that fits now.
Make sure the helmet straps are adjusted properly. The chin strap should be snug, but not too tight. You should be able to slip one finger underneath the strap, and the helmet should not wiggle very much when the child shakes his head from side to side.
Of course it’s also very important that the child keeps their chin strap fastened whenever they’re using the helmet. A loose helmet will not protect your child’s head.
Host: How long will the helmet last?
Dr. Gaines: We recommend replacing the helmet at least every five years. If the straps get frayed or torn, or if any of the fittings break, the helmet should be thrown away and replaced with a new helmet. If a helmet has been involved in an accident, it also should be thrown out because it has probably lost its ability to protect a child’s head.
And remember that helmets are good for people of all ages. Parents can set a good example for their children by wearing helmets when they ride their bikes, too.
Host: Tell us about the Hard Head program at Children’s Hospital.
Dr. Gaines: The Hard Head Patrol is a community awareness program co-sponsored by Children’s Hospital that rewards kids for wearing their helmets with free meal coupons, and provides helmets to kids who don’t have them. You can find more information about the Hard Head Patrol at Children's Hospital website.
Host: Once my child has the right helmet, what are the next rules to remember?
Dr. Gaines: The next step is to check the child’s bike to make sure it’s in good working order. Parents should regularly check that the tires have enough air pressure, that the handlebars and seat are adjusted to the right height and that they’re securely fastened. It is also important to make sure that the brakes are in good working order.
Once children are off and running, it’s important that they follow the rules of the road.
They should always keep an eye out for cars, and they should obey all the traffic laws. That includes traffic lights, stop signs and yield signs.
They should always stay on the right side of the road, and always ride in the same direction as traffic.
They should use proper hand signals to let drivers and other bicyclists know when they’re going to be turning or stopping.
Host: What are some hazards they should be aware of while riding a bike?
Dr. Gaines: When they’re riding through a curve, children should stay in single file and stay to the side of the road. They should never ride between moving or parked cars. They should never ride out quickly from a driveway.
When they come to an intersection, it’s a good idea to teach your child to get off their bike and walk through the intersection while obeying the traffic signals.
Children should avoid riding bikes in the dark, but if they do, they should have lights and reflectors on their bike, and wear bright, reflective clothing.
Most of all, we tell the kids to have fun and be safe.
Host: Thank you for reminding us that bicycling is a great activity for kids, but it’s always important to wear a good-fitting, properly adjusted helmet at all times, and to follow the rules of the road.
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