Bike Accidents Can Be Prevented

April 27, 2012

With the warm weather in the air, emergency departments are bracing to treat kids with injuries related to bicycle accidents. 

“We see many cases with kids with first time riding their bike for the spring,” said Dr. Bob Peterson, emergency room physician and Chief of Staff at Riverside Medical Center.

Kids need to take proper safety measures before jumping on their bike. By doing so, they are able to prevent many accidents from happening or becoming serious or fatal.

“Kids need to realize that riding a bike does come with some responsibility and that when on a bike, their attention needs to be focused on where they are going,” said Brian VanDenLangenberg, supervisor of emergency services at New London Family Medical Center.

Kids should consider factors like the safety of the bike, wearing proper safety gear and following road rules.

When looking at the bicycle itself, make sure it fits properly. Too often at the start of spring, kids have either outgrown their bike or are riding a sibling’s bike, which is too big.

The bar on the bike, when the child is standing with feet flat on the ground, should be one to two inches from their crotch, said Dr. Peterson. When seated, their feet should be on the pedals farthest away from them and there should be a slight bend in the knees, he added.

“Sometimes they try to ride someone else’s bike and they can barely get their toes on the pedals and that’s a disaster waiting to happen,” he said.

Also, before riding, look at the bike itself. Is it safe? Is the seat on properly? It is loose? Are the pedals or handle bar on tightly? Is the chain guard on? Do the tires have air? Do the hand brakes or shifter work?

Personal safety is also very important, from wearing clothes that will not get caught in the wheels or pedals to wearing a helmet that fits properly on the head.  The helmet should be of good quality and fit tightly, flat on the head, with chinstraps under the chin. “If the helmet is real loose and tipping, it’s not going to protect them much,” said Dr. Peterson.

VanDenLangenberg agreed, noting statistics from www.safekidswi.org. “Your child is 14 times more likely to survive a bike crash if he or she is wearing a helmet,” he said. “Children who wear their helmets tipped back have a 52 percent greater risk of head injury than those who wear their helmets properly.”

Children’s bodies are susceptible to major injuries if in a bicycle accident, said VanDenLangenberg. “Kids have very pliable bones so it’s usually not the initial impact that creates the problem but the tertiary impact of them hitting the ground with their heads after they have already been hit by the car, giving them that head injury, which may have been prevented if only they would have been wearing a helmet,” he said. “Obviously many kids come in with the cuts and scrapes which look much worse than they usually are and require only good cleaning and the occasional stitch.” 

It is also important to wear proper clothes when riding a bike. Swim suits and bare feet are a big hazard, said Dr. Peterson. “I can’t tell you how many people I see, their toes all scrapped to pieces, because they are riding with bare feet,” he said, noting that long sleeves and pants and shoes protect the skin.

Before hitting the road on the bike, keep in mind the proper road rules, said Dr. Peterson. “Bicyclists are suppose to follow the same traffic rules as cars do,” he said noting important rules like going with the flow of traffic, making turn signals, and stopping at stop signs.

Be careful at intersections and never come from between parked vehicles. “Unfortunately most accidents seem to occur because kids aren’t paying attention to other traffic and ride out into the street or try riding against traffic,” said VanDenLangenberg. “These kids are then struck by a driver with the kids hitting the hood of the car and sometimes the windshield then falling to the ground.” 

Thanks to helmet awareness, “we are seeing less head injuries than before,” said Dr. Peterson.

Also, many families are able to get free bike helmets at local bicycle safety clinics and other events. These clinics also provide valuable information about riding safely and bike safety checks.

Helmets are not just for kids, said Dr. Peterson. “It’s really important to stress that adults need them as well as kids,” he said, noting that often it’s the parents who are coming into the emergency department.