Home and School Guide to Bicycle Safety for Kids
Bicycles have a long history. The first patent for an early bicycle was obtained in 1818, and they have been popular with children almost from their inception. Bicycles are great for children, as they are easy to ride with very little training and relatively inexpensive as well as portable and convenient. But, like with all modes of transportation, there are some basic safety guidelines that should be followed no matter where a bike is ridden.
Want to learn more about bicycle history? Here are some resources:
Rules of the Road
The most important aspect of safe riding is knowing the rules of the road. After all, you can’t follow the rules if you don’t know them! Luckily, the rules of bicycle riding are very simple, basic, and generally easy to follow. One of the most important rules is to ride with traffic, not against it. That means that you should ride on the right side of the road going with the flow of traffic because a bicycle is a type of vehicle.
You should also make sure to yield to cars already on the road, signal your turns, and pay attention to your surroundings. Children should be especially careful and conscientious, as they are often smaller, and their signals may be less noticeable than those of adults. Children as well as adults should also know state bicycle laws, which can vary from state to state and can impact everything from how to signal, how to cross an intersection, or whether riding on the sidewalk is allowed or not.
- NC Bike Ed: Basics of bicycle driving
- The League of American Bicyclists: State bike laws
- University of Memphis: Rules of the road
There are basic rules of riding bicycles, but there are also certain guidelines, safety tips, and rules for different environments and situations. Riding a bicycle can be a safe and fun mode of transportation for children as long as safe riding is practiced!
General Safety Tips
Children should be very careful to make sure their helmets fit well and that their bicycles are adjusted as they grow to make riding as easy as possible. Children younger than 10 should generally ride either on the sidewalk, if allowed by state law, or in traffic situations that don’t involve direct interaction with cars.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Kids and bicycle safety
- Washington State Department of Transportation: Bicycle safety tips
- AAA: Bicycle safety
Safety Around the Home
Even if a child is only riding a bicycle around their own yard, or even in their own house, there are still safety rules that apply. For example, even when riding close to home, children should always wear a helmet. An accident could happen indoors, in your driveway, or even in a backyard. Children should always wear helmets, as should adults, no matter where they are.
- Healthy Children: Bicycle safety: myths and facts
- National Safety Council: Bike safety
- Safe Kids Worldwide: Bike
Safety Riding to and From School
Children can often ride bikes to and from school if they follow safety rules and have a clear and safe path to and from their school. Children should never ride an unfamiliar route alone, so an adult or older sibling should ride with them the first time, and adults should monitor their adherence to safety rules before allowing children to ride to school alone. Also, adults should make sure that schools are bike friendly and that there are resources in place, like bike racks and traffic safety monitors, to keep kids safe when they arrive at school.
Safety in an Urban Environment
Bicycles are great ways to navigate urban landscapes. Many urban centers are becoming more bike friendly, and bicycles are easy to store, transport, and maintain in the city. However, children should be aware of how to navigate traffic, how to yield to pedestrians, and how to navigate sidewalks, bike lanes, and traffic flow.
- Grist: Six tips for safe cycling in the city
- San Francisco Bicycle Coalition: Urban bicycling workshops
Safety in Suburbs
Suburbs can be great places to ride bicycles. They generally have wide roads, less traffic, and far fewer pedestrians. However, there are some caveats to be aware of. Because many suburbs do have less traffic, there could be a tendency for drivers to drive faster and be more distracted. Children should be especially careful to not grow complacent at the slower pace of traffic in the suburbs and continue to use hand signals and wear helmets. Finally, although suburbs are often connected to urban areas, children should be taught to never ride their bicycles on restricted roads such as interstates.
- Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia: Biking in the suburbs
- Chicago Bicycle: Learn to ride a bike confidently and safely
- People for Bikes: Dashing through the snow
Safety in a Rural Area
Riding a bicycle along a country lane, the breeze in your hair and the smell of fresh grass and clean air in your lungs, while the sun shines down on you sounds like a dream. Riding a bicycle in rural areas can be a great way to traverse the countryside, but the rules still apply. Many rural roads don’t have bike lanes, so remind children to be extra careful to look out for traffic, signal their turns, and pay attention to their surroundings.
- Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation: Bicycle skills and safety
- Georgia Bikes!: Bicycle friendly communities
Hand signals are some of the most important skills a child can learn when learning to ride a bicycle. As bicycles don’t have turning signals or brake lights, hand signals are crucial. Hand signals can keep children focused and alert drivers, other cyclists, and pedestrians to a cyclist’s intentions.
- NHTSA: Hand Signals (PDF)
- Pennsylvania Department of Transportation: Bicycle safety and Pennsylvania laws
Protective and Safety Gear
Children should always wear helmets. The helmets should fit and be new. They should also be replaced after any accidents. You may also want to consider wearing knee pads, elbow pads, or any other safety gear deemed necessary based on the child’s skill level. Children should also always wear closed-toe shoes when riding a bicycle to protect their feet from both the bicycle’s spokes and the ground!
- Centers for Disease Control: Head injuries and bicycle safety
- New York Department of Transportation: Bike safety
Resources of Parents
Parents can be great examples for bike safety as well as teachers. Parents can also help kids learn about bicycle history, safety, and usefulness, making bicycles even more fun for kids!
- Trips for Kids helps get kids riding bicycles: Trail rides.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine discusses safety for all family members: Bicycle, in-line skating, skateboard, and scooter safety.