How to Keep Young Bicyclists Safe

By Barkha Patel

Bicycling at a young age is a great beginning to a healthy and active lifestyle. Bicycles are a fun way for kids to play and get around, and they are proven to stimulate physical and psychological development.[1] New Jersey has a Safe Routes to School initiative, which encourages children to walk and bicycle to school. Before you begin, it is important to know how to ride safely and responsibly.

Preparation

Start by checking that the child’s bicycle is ready to use. Make sure the seat is level from front to back and allows a slight bend at the knee when the leg is fully extended on the pedal. At this height, riding should be the most comfortable. Have the rider stand over the bicycle and make sure there is a gap of a few inches between the rider and the top tube bar. Check the brakes and make sure the tires are inflated properly.

Protection

Next, prepare the cyclist with protective gear, including a helmet. New Jersey State Law requires children under the age of seventeen (17) to wear a helmet when cycling. Make sure the helmet fits properly by following these tips:

 

  1. Choose a helmet that fits snuggly on the head
  2. Place the helmet level on the head so there is a width of two fingers between the eyebrows and the bottom of the helmet
  3. Center the left buckle under the chin
  4. Adjust the slider on both side straps to form a “V” shape under the ears
  5. Buckle the chin strap and tighten so that one finger can fit under the strap

If the helmet rocks side to side or feels insecure in any way, adjust the straps. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides detailed instructions on helmet fitting.

Wearing knee pads and elbow pads can minimize the impact of injuries, and bright clothing can help the cyclist be seen by others on the street.

Where to Ride

Your child’s age and comfort level will determine whether the street or the sidewalk is appropriate for cycling. In New Jersey, riding on the sidewalk is not prohibited by state law. However, municipalities have adopted their own ordinances in order to regulate where bicycles are permitted. Check to see what the rules are in your municipality. Overall, there are statewide provisions allowing very young cyclists to use the sidewalk under parental supervision.

Anyone riding on the sidewalk should cross intersections safely, alert nearby pedestrians, and watch for vehicles entering or exiting driveways.

Rules of the Road

By law, a bicycle is considered a vehicle, and cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers.[2] If your child is riding on the street, teach her/him to obey the following rules of the road. Always follow the flow of traffic. Ride on the right side of the road and in the same direction as other vehicles. Follow all traffic signals and lane regulations. Try to ride in a straight line and alert others of your movement by using hand signals.

Always look before turning and watch for cars turning on the street. Ride a safe distance away from the curb and watch for parked cars in case the driver pulls out or opens the door. Yield to other motorists, pedestrians and all of the traffic laws.

The New Jersey Department of Transportation provides the New Jersey Bicycling Manual for additional information on bicycling rules, regulations and safety. To access this manual and find out more about the Safe Routes to School program, visit NJDOT’s website.

The New Jersey Ambassadors in Motion travel around the state, and are available to teach these safety strategies to parents and children. If you are interested in requesting Ambassadors in your town or at your event, please follow the link and download the Ambassador request form.


[1] Pucher, John R., and Ralph Buehler. “Health Benefits of Cycling.” City Cycling. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2012.
[2] New Jersey Statutes – Title 39 § 4-10.1

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