Biking to School Legally and Safely
This content was developed in conjunction with Knabe Law Firm - Greater Cleveland's Bike Attorneys!
Regular cycling has just as many health benefits for kids as for adults, with the added advantage of enhanced brain development! Cardiovascular and muscular fitness, strong bones and joints, healthy exposure times to sunlight for vitamin D, better coordination and balance, and healthier body weight. Add to that lower levels of stress, leading to better mental health. These benefits can lead to greater academic performance and help make their school days more enjoyable.
There are many things to consider when your child is ready to start riding their bike to school. At this point you or another adult has taught them how to ride safely with the training wheels off. Now the stakes are higher, and kids will carry safety lessons forward as they learn to navigate more challenging riding situations.
THE ROUTE: Important Specifics
First, their route should ideally meet certain requirements:
- The less motor vehicle traffic, the better
- Bike lanes should be present, or at the very least, wider shoulders
- In the absence of bike lanes, there should ideally be sidewalks available for most or all of the route (please check your local traffic laws related to riding bikes in the street or on sidewalks).
- Intersections of higher volume are safest with crossing guards
- Completely visible with no areas of seclusion
THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT: Helmets & More
Municipalities generally require helmets for kids up to age 18. Even if yours does not, it is a no-brainer – pun intended! – for a child to always wear a bike helmet, especially when a route includes crossing streets where traffic is present. With up to 85% less traumatic brain injury when a helmet is worn, it’s simply the safest idea. Many parents build bike safety habits early, setting a great example by wearing them and making sure their kids do, too. Rainbow Babies & Children’s and Safe Kids Greater Cleveland in collaboration with University Hospitals, notes that a helmet should:
- Have straps that, when fastened, form a “V” under ears and be a little tight, yet comfortable
- Fasten snugly under chin; when the cyclist opens their mouth as wide as they can, the helmet should fit snugly on their head–if not, they should tighten the straps; another technique is making sure only one finger fits between the buckle and the chin
- Allow for width of two fingers on forehead between brows and lower edge of helmet; the lower edge of the helmet should be parallel to the ground and not tilted up
- When on the head, the bottom rim of the helmet should be visible to the eyes of the cyclist when looking up
- Have a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) sticker inside, indicating the helmet’s performance requirements have been met
- Last, look at your child wearing their helmet and make the appropriate adjustments, so the helmet does its job!
Kids love to pick their own helmets and show more enthusiasm for wearing them when they’ve been included in the selection process. Knee and elbow pads may also help keep kids safer on their bikes. As for clothing choices, the brighter, the better! Visibility is key! Fun, bright colors will help other road users see younger cyclists. Consider adding reflective tape on their shoes (moving parts) and down the sides of pant legs. And be sure your child’s clothing isn’t overly long or loose and shoelaces are tied to avoid catching in bike chains or wheel spokes.
HOW TO RIDE: Look & Listen!
Naturally, kids need to follow all the same bike laws as do their parents, using their eyes and ears to keep them safer. It’s best practice to:
- Avoid riding with earbuds! Kids need to be able to hear important sounds like large vehicles, pedestrians, other cyclists, and dogs.
- Install a bell or horn on their bike and it is another fun accessory for them to pick out. This allows them to alert others that they are approaching from behind. They can also say in a loud voice "on your left" so the person(s) they are passing knows where to expect the bike to ride by.
- Watch out for potential hazards like litter, tree branches, holes, or gravel on the road or sidewalk, and– above all–TRAFFIC