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Noyes Health / About Noyes / News / Article

Bicycle Safety

Friday, June 17, 2016

One of my fondest memories of childhood was riding my bicycle.  That purple banana seat bike outfitted with a white flower power basket and handle bar streamers gave me a sense of independence and adventure.  I could visit friends on my own, bike over to grandpa’s house on the lake, or go for miles on a dirt road in search of critters and treasures.  More than a few times, I took a spill and was fortunate to get by with only a scraped knee.  Unfortunately, many people are not so lucky.  In 2013 in the U.S., there were an estimated 494,000 emergency department visits due to bicycle-related injuries.   According to the CDC, children (5-14 years), adolescents, and young adults (15-24 years) have the highest rates of nonfatal bicycle-related injuries, accounting for more than one-third of all bicycle-related injuries seen in U.S. emergency departments.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that males are at particular risk.   88% of the bicyclists killed and 80% of those injured are male. Teaching bicycle safety at a young age is an important first step toward lowering those statistics.  

Bicycle safety falls into four big categories:  helmet and clothing, bike mechanics, control, and rules of the road.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Kidshealth.org offer the following tips:

Helmet and Clothing

  • Wear a bicycle helmet every time you ride, even in your driveway.  Helmets provide some protection for your face, head, and brain in case you fall down.

  • The U.S. government requires all helmets to meet safety standards.   All helmets should have a sticker from the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) indicating it meets the standards.

  • Helmets should fit properly and straps should be fastened snugly.  It should be worn level and cover your forehead.  (for complete fitting information, visit Livingston County Cornell Cooperative Extension at http://ccelivingstoncounty.org/resources/easy-steps-to-properly-fit-a-bicycle-helmet)

  • Wear neon, fluorescent, or bright colors during the day, dusk, dawn, or night.  

  • Wear something reflective – tape, markings on shoes/shirts/pants, or flashing lights.  

  • Wear sneakers when biking.  Never ride barefoot or in sandals.

  • Avoid wearing anything that can get caught in the chain such as loose pant legs, backpack straps, or loose shoes laces.

  • DO NOT wear headphones or earbuds.  It is against NYS law and it is dangerous.  You must be able to hear everything in your surroundings including cars, trucks, dogs, and people.

Wear a bicycle helmet every time you ride, even in your driveway.  Helmets provide some protection for your face, head, and brain in case you fall down.

The U.S. government requires all helmets to meet safety standards.   All helmets should have a sticker from the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) indicating it meets the standards.

Helmets should fit properly and straps should be fastened snugly.  It should be worn level and cover your forehead.  (for complete fitting information, visit Livingston County Cornell Cooperative Extension at http://ccelivingstoncounty.org/resources/easy-steps-to-properly-fit-a-bicycle-helmet)

Wear neon, fluorescent, or bright colors during the day, dusk, dawn, or night.  

Wear something reflective – tape, markings on shoes/shirts/pants, or flashing lights.  

Wear sneakers when biking.  Never ride barefoot or in sandals.

Avoid wearing anything that can get caught in the chain such as loose pant legs, backpack straps, or loose shoes laces.

DO NOT wear headphones or earbuds.  It is against NYS law and it is dangerous.  You must be able to hear everything in your surroundings including cars, trucks, dogs, and people.

Bike Mechanics

  • Get the right size bike – when you are on your bicycle, stand straddling the top bar of your bike so that both feet are flat on the ground.  There should be 1 to 3 inches of space between you and the top bar if using a road bike and 3 to 4 inches if a mountain bicycle.  

  • Make sure your seat, handlebars, and wheels fit tightly.  The seat height should be adjusted to allow a slight bend at the knee when the leg if fully extended.  The handle bar should be at the same height with the seat.  

  • Oil the bike chain regularly.

  • Check the brakes and make sure they are not sticking.

  • Check the tires and make sure they have enough air.

Get the right size bike – when you are on your bicycle, stand straddling the top bar of your bike so that both feet are flat on the ground.  There should be 1 to 3 inches of space between you and the top bar if using a road bike and 3 to 4 inches if a mountain bicycle.  

Make sure your seat, handlebars, and wheels fit tightly.  The seat height should be adjusted to allow a slight bend at the knee when the leg if fully extended.  The handle bar should be at the same height with the seat.  

Oil the bike chain regularly.

Check the brakes and make sure they are not sticking.

Check the tires and make sure they have enough air.

Control of Your Bike

  • Always ride with your hands on the handlebars.  

  • Carry books and other items in the bicycle basket or in a backpack.

  • Stay alert for wet leaves, big puddles, potholes, storm grates, gravel and rocks, curbs, trash, pets, and wild animals.  If you see any of these hazards, slow down and point them out to anyone else riding with you.

  • Avoid riding at night if at all possible.  If you must be out, be sure you and the bicycle are outfitted with reflective tape and flashing lights.  (48% of bicycle fatalities occur between 4 p.m. and midnight.)

  • Never ride a bicycle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  (24% of bicyclists killed had blood alcohol concentrations of .08 g/dL or higher)

Always ride with your hands on the handlebars.  

Carry books and other items in the bicycle basket or in a backpack.

Stay alert for wet leaves, big puddles, potholes, storm grates, gravel and rocks, curbs, trash, pets, and wild animals.  If you see any of these hazards, slow down and point them out to anyone else riding with you.

Avoid riding at night if at all possible.  If you must be out, be sure you and the bicycle are outfitted with reflective tape and flashing lights.  (48% of bicycle fatalities occur between 4 p.m. and midnight.)

Never ride a bicycle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  (24% of bicyclists killed had blood alcohol concentrations of .08 g/dL or higher)

Rules of the Road

  • Go with the traffic flow.  Ride on the right, in the same direction as other vehicles.  Go with the flow – not against it.

  • Learn hand signals and use them.

  • Obey all traffic laws.  Bicyclists must obey all the same traffic signs, signals, and lane markings as vehicles.  

  • Always stop and check for traffic in both directions when leaving your driveway, an alley, or curb.  Look left-right-left before entering a road.  

  • Cross at intersections.  If it is a busy road, walk your bike across the street at the cross walk.  Do not pull out between parked cars; drivers will not see you coming.

  • Ride in straight, predictable lines; look over your shoulder for traffic, and use hand signals before changing lane position.

  • Alert pedestrians that you are near by saying, “excuse me” or “passing on your left” or use a bell or horn.

  • Use bike lanes or designated bike routes whenever you can.  

  • Ride single file on the street with friends.  

Go with the traffic flow.  Ride on the right, in the same direction as other vehicles.  Go with the flow – not against it.

Learn hand signals and use them.

Obey all traffic laws.  Bicyclists must obey all the same traffic signs, signals, and lane markings as vehicles.  

Always stop and check for traffic in both directions when leaving your driveway, an alley, or curb.  Look left-right-left before entering a road.  

Cross at intersections.  If it is a busy road, walk your bike across the street at the cross walk.  Do not pull out between parked cars; drivers will not see you coming.

Ride in straight, predictable lines; look over your shoulder for traffic, and use hand signals before changing lane position.

Alert pedestrians that you are near by saying, “excuse me” or “passing on your left” or use a bell or horn.

Use bike lanes or designated bike routes whenever you can.  

Ride single file on the street with friends.  

For more information about bicycle safety, check out these websites:

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at Noyes Health in Dansville.  If you have questions or suggestions for future articles she can be reached at lwichtowski@noyeshealth.org or 585-335-4327.  

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