For mothers of younger children, summer brings new freedom and, with it, new challenges. As the weather turns warmer and the school year ends, children (and adults) turn to bicycles for recreation and transportation.
Bicycling can provide your children exercise, time to enjoy the outdoors and independence from car pools and buses. However, every year, more than 900 bicyclists are killed, 20,000 are admitted to hospitals and 580,000 are treated in emergency rooms. The good news for worried mothers, according to Professor Susan Baker of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, is that many of these injuries and deaths are preventable.
Q: Where can my child bicycle safely?
A: The less traffic, the better. Motor vehicles are involved in 90 percent to 92 percent of bicyclist deaths and 12 percent of injuries. If there are places available where bicycle routes are separated from motor vehicle traffic, this is by far the safest place to ride. Of course, this isn't often possible. If your children ride with cars and trucks, be sure they know the rules of the road. They should ride in the same direction as the traffic and avoid roads where cars travel at higher speeds. One third of bicyclist fatalities occur on roads with speed limits of 55 mph or higher. Be sure they know how to signal for right and left hand turns and which lanes to be in to turn.
Should my child wear a bicycle helmet?
The best way to protect your child from a bicycle injury is to have
him or her wear a helmet. Head inju
ries are responsible for an estimated 70 percent to 80 percent of all bicycling fatalities, and some 40 percent of bicyclists who are admitted to hospitals have a head injury that could have been prevented with a helmet.
How can I convince my child to wear a helmet?
This is a tough one, and an issue that plagues all parents. And fatal bicycling injuries are most common in children 10 to 14, just at the time they are pushing their independence and listening more closely to their peers than to their parents. Getting the mothers of your child's riding buddies to join you in a rule about helmet use may work best. After that it's a question of safety and the prevention of death and disability; not a hard choice when put in that contest.
I bicycle too. Are there safety rules for a mother?
Yes. Forget about glamour and hair style and wear a helmet. And, like driving, don't mix drinking and bicycling. Alcohol figures prominently in bicycle injuries. Of all fatally injured bicyclists tested for alcohol, 32 percent had been drinking.
Where can I learn more about bicycling safety?
For information about bicycling safety, regulations and bike trails in Maryland, call the Maryland State Highway Administration Bicycle Hotline at 1 (800) 252-8776.
For Baltimore information, including where to get approved helmets, call the Baltimore Bicycling Club at 792-8308.
Dr. Matanoski is a physician and professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.