As part of National Bike Month, thousands of elementary and middle school-aged children will celebrate Bicycle to School Day on Wednesday, May 9, 2012. According to the US Department of Transportation, fewer than 16 percent of children walk or bicycle to classes. School-related traffic can contribute more than 10 percent of morning rush hour traffic volumes in some communities, as well as significant air pollution.
As the weather warms and the school year is in its home stretch in Western New York, parents are faced with a common question each morning from their child, “Can I ride my bike to school today?” So what better time to talk about biking safety than during National Bike Month and Bike to School Day May 9.
As parents we know the benefits of riding a bike are physical activity, fresh air, and fun, to name a few. But if our child doesn't practice bike safety, the benefits won't matter. So, let's take a look at how to make our children safe on Bike to School Day.
According to the National Center for Safe Routes to School, there are three steps you and your child should consider before rides to school. First, do a bike and helmet check, second be ready to ride, and lastly plan a route and try it out.
1. Do a bike and helmet check
- Bike fit: When sitting on the bike with feet on the pedals, there should be a slight bend in the knee when the pedal is closest to the ground.
- Bike visibility: The bike should have reflectors on the front, back, and both wheels. If riding when it’s dark or at dusk, there should also be lights on the front and back.
- Take the helmet fit test: Put your helmet flat on your head. If it moves when you shake your head, you need to tighten your helmet or get a smaller one. The helmet should sit low on your forehead – two finger widths above your eyebrows. With the helmet buckled, the straps should meet just below the ears. And when buckled, you should be able to fit no more than two fingers between the buckle and chin.
2. Be ready to ride
- Wear brightly colored clothes and reflective gear, with helmet buckled, shoelaces tied and pant leg on the chain side tucked so it can’t get caught.
- Make sure the tires have enough air, brakes and gears work, the chain isn’t loose, and wheels and bolts are tight.
- Keep eyes and ears open.
- Watch for vehicles going in and out of driveways and alleys.
- Keep both hands on the handlebars except when signaling. Carry books and other items in a backpack or bag designed to fit on a bicycle.
3. Plan the route and try it out
- Parents, work with your child to pick the route to school and practice riding the route together.
- Choose streets with minimal traffic and lower speeds, and look for routes where you can ride separate from traffic using a path, bicycle lane or a complete street.
- Limit the number of street crossings, and avoid crossing busy or high-speed streets. Talk with your child about whether it’s okay to ride alone, with friends, or only when an adult is on the ride. Children under age 10 generally do not have the ability to manage traffic situations on their own, and may be safest riding on the sidewalk or a bike path. Some communities do not permit children to ride on the sidewalk, so check before making a decision.
Another way to protect your child when biking to school is supporting the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program. This nationally sponsored program has two main objectives – to encourage students to walk or bike to school to become more physically active and secondly, to reduce vehicle congestion around schools, resulting in safer access and lower exhaust emissions.