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When the weather warms up, many families head outdoors. And biking is one of the most popular activities for children (and their parents!).
With bicycles come certain hazards – but with a helmet in hand and some common sense, you can avoid them. Here's how to keep your children's summer adventures on two wheels safe and fun.
Plus: Find out how to protect yourself against other summer dangers, from dogs and dehydration to sun, water, and disease-carrying bugs.
The hazards of bicycles and bike riding
Every day hundreds of kids in the United States are injured in bike-related accidents. Bicycles are involved in more childhood injuries than any consumer product other than automobiles. And more children show up in emergency rooms with injuries resulting from riding a bicycle than any other sport.
Using a helmet, says SafeKids USA, is the single most effective way to reduce deaths from cycling accidents. "Universal bike helmet use among children ages 14 and under would prevent an estimated 212 to 294 deaths and 382,000 to 529,000 injuries each year."
Only about half of states have a law requiring kids to wear bike helmets while cycling, according to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute – so "parent law" needs to fill in where state law falls short.
Bike safety for kids
Pediatrician Jeffrey W. Britton, chair of the Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention of the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), says to keep in mind "monkey see-monkey do": If parents don't wear helmets, neither will kids.
Britton suggests investing in a high-quality helmet. Look for one with an internal basket that fits tightly over your child's head, which is more comfortable and helps the helmet stay in the right position. (Helmets are also essential for kids who skate, skateboard, or ride a scooter.)
Less-expensive versions don't fit well, and kids can push them back on their head and loosen the straps, which makes the helmet less effective (or not helpful at all) in an accident.
Of course, there's more to safe bike riding than wearing a helmet. Kids often ride bikes that are too big or small for them, which may hamper their control. Younger children are probably not developmentally ready to handle shifting gears or hand-braking, so a single-speed coaster may be safest.
Finally, Britton cautions that the open space of driveways, streets, and parking lots can be dangerous. Kids can forget where they are when they're having a good time, especially when they're winning a race from here to the stop sign.
Carrying your child on a bike
Birth to 11 months: The AAP advises against carrying children this age on a bike – whether in a mounted seat, trailer, front pack, or backpack. The vibration, shaking, and bouncing may be too intense.
Children 12 months and older: Children 1 to 4 years old whose necks are strong enough to support a helmet can ride in a trailer or rear-mounted seat, according to the AAP.