Cycling Sense

Staying safe on two – or three – wheels


Like the sounds of lawn mowers and birdsong, the light whirr and clicks of children’s bicycles make for some of the most enjoyable and inevitable signs of spring.

Cycling – on two wheels or three, in a trailer or on a parent’s bike-mounted seat — is one of the most fun and accessible activities available to children, which could account for its massive popularity.

As is the case with many sports, cycling comes with inherent risks. Alongside falls and car accidents, cycling-related injuries are among the top reasons for visits to hospitals in BC, according to the BC Injury Research and Prevention Unit. Of all cycling injuries among children between the ages of one and 14 years occurring between 2001 and 2009, about 11 per cent were the result of collisions with cars. Fractures lead cycling injuries among all age groups, while head injuries account for 15 per cent.

The good news is that adults and children can easily avoid many common cycling injuries, according to Dr. Mariana Brussoni, a Child & Family Research Institute scientist and director of BC Children’s Hospital’s Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program.

Dr. Brussoni, a staunch advocate for children’s access to outdoor play, says that though the numbers of injuries look startling, they should be seen in the context of the general popularity of cycling among children. Jumping on a bike to ride with pals is such a universal pastime for kids that, she says, “if you just look at injury rates, this can be misleading.

“In general, it’s important to get people out and active, and not limiting themselves because of worries about injury risk. There are lots of things they can do to keep themselves safe while being active.” 

In fact, preventing a child’s cycling injury can be as simple as trimming hedges, fastening a helmet correctly, or teaching a child a few basic rules of the road. For every risk, there’s a way to prevent injury.

RISK: Riding out of a driveway
One of the most common causes of bicycle injuries is the driveway rideout: a child rides out of the driveway and gets hit by a car. Very often these incidents involve younger children: the median age is less than 10.

GOOD PREVENTION: Clear the bike path
Get rid of obstructions that may block the view of motorists, such as bushes or trees; teach your child to stop before entering the street, and to scan left, then right, for traffic.

RISK: Turning without warning
These collisions occur because the cyclist makes an unexpected turn without scanning behind for traffic or signalling.

GOOD PREVENTION: Walking bikes, and the swerve test
Teach your children to walk their bikes across busy streets, at least until they have some advanced training and are old enough to understand traffic. Canada Safety Council (CSC) suggests a fun method to teach kids how to scan before turning left: have your child practise riding along a straight paint line in a playground. Once your child has cycled past you, call their name and have them count the fingers you’re holding up. After 10 or 15 minutes’ practice, a 10-year-old should be able to look behind and identify how many fingers you are holding up without swerving.

RISK: Collisions between cars and single-file cyclists
Collisions between bicycles and cars often happen when cyclists are following each other. The first cyclist may run a stop sign and get through safely, but the following cyclist often goes through with less care and may get hit.

GOOD PREVENTION: Stopping, awareness
Teach your child to be hyper-aware of the traffic situation. When a group is riding together, each cyclist should stop at stop signs.

RISK: Falling and head injuries
Most cycling injuries occur because of falls – a rider loses control and falls after skidding, catching a wheel in a crack or getting a shoelace or pants caught in the chain. In a spill, the forehead usually hits the ground first. Head injuries cause most bicycle-related deaths and can result in serious injury.

GOOD PREVENTION: No helmet? No cycling.
It’s critical for your child to wear a properly fitting, CSA-certified bike helmet. Up to 88 per cent of serious head injuries could be prevented by a helmet, according to the CSC. The council advises parents to fit the helmet by levelling it over the child’s forehead and adjusting the chin strap to fit snugly and comfortably. It should protect the forehead without slipping forward or backward.

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TEST your cycling safety knowledge

1. It’s essential for a child to wear a helmet. How should it fit?
a) Loosely, allowing two fingers to fit between the child’s ear and the helmet interior.
b) Very tightly, with the chin strap firm and unmoving under the chin.
c) It should rest level over the forehead, without slipping forward or backward, with the chin strap snug and comfortable.

2. How can a child pass the swerve test?
a) He or she is able to ride between pylons without losing balance.
b) A child cycling forward should be able to look back and count the fingers you hold up without swerving.
c) The child must ride in a straight line for two city blocks without swerving.

3. Of all cycling injuries among children between the ages of one and 14 years that occurred between 2001 and 2009, how many were the result of collisions with cars?
a) 11%
b) 70%
c) 93%


Answers: 1) c; 2) b; 3) a

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