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Bicycling Thu Jul 18 2013

Children's Bicycle Safety in Chicago

As a father of three children under the age of 13, I am hyper-sensitive to the issue of child bicycle safety. It wasn't too long ago that I taught them each how to ride a bike.

How do we teach our children to ride a bicycle? Do we teach bicycle safety?

Here was my process: 1. Removed training wheels from bike; 2. Put child on bike and said, "I'm going to hold onto you, jog down the block for a bit and then let go"; 3. Started jogging along with them until they seemed steady; 4. Let go of bike; 5. Watched helplessly as they lost control and fell; 6. Helped them up; 7. Watched them get mad at me and run inside house to pout for a bit; 8. Repeated steps 3 and 4.

UPDATE: Seeking information on a child that was backed over while on his bicycle at Lincoln and Paulina. More information available here.

Are we doing everything we can to protect our kids?
child-bicycle-accident.pngEventually, after some bumps and scrapes, they were officially capable of riding a bicycle on their own. After taking some photos, hiding a tear and feeling super proud, I realized that my most important job was just beginning -- educating them regarding bicycle safety.

Now you know how I taught my kids how to ride a bike. It's how my dad taught me to ride a bike and probably how his dad taught him. Heck, with a few slight variances, it's probably how all of us learned how to ride a bike. After that day in our lives, we don't learn too much more about bike safety. Usually, when we're learning how to ride a bike, we're too young to read the "Rules of the Road." There are generally no bike safety courses in the grammar schools. Aside from an occasional pointer here and there like, "wear a helmet," for most of us, our bicycle safety training is complete soon after we learn how to ride, though it should be just beginning.

Children are more likely to be in an accident in the summer

In Chicago, summertime means more kids riding their bikes leading to the inevitable spike in bike accidents. The summer weather summons children with their bikes to neighborhood sidewalks and streets for some care-free fun in the sun. Unfortunately, every year, thousands of kids are seriously injured or killed because a driver backing up from a driveway or a parking spot didn't see them. These incidents are called "backovers" and happen whether a child is on a bike or not. According to, at least 50 children are backed over by vehicles every week. Most are treated in hospital emergency rooms but some die.

Shouldn't our vehicles be safer?

back-over-accident.jpgHave no fear. Government is here. Well...maybe not? The 2008 Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act required a rear visibility rule to be set by Feb. 28, 2011. However, the 2011 deadline has been repeatedly delayed. Last month, for the fourth time, the Department of Transportation disobeyed a Congressional order to set a rule to improve rear visibility so drivers can see small children immediately behind their vehicles. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood informed Congress that more research is needed. You may translate this to mean "more research is needed." I translate it to mean the auto industry lobbyists are doing their job since requiring cameras will be costly and may mean fewer car sales.

Regardless of my interpretation of "more research," the new deadline is now January 2015 for the regulations. This is quite disturbing in light of the fact that the NHTSA estimates that, on average, 292 fatalities and 18,000 injuries occur each year as a result of backovers. In 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed mandating rear-view cameras for all new vehicles, phased in through 2014. Well we know now that that's not going to happen.

It's sad that we have the technology to prevent many child tragedies but no requirements that said technology be used -- funny how it seems that we all have video cameras on our cell phones, but not on the backs of our cars. Until our government catches up, education and awareness regarding back-overs become especially important to children and adults alike. Even when our government catches up with technology and all new vehicles have backup cameras (I do think that will happen someday), education and awareness will remain critical given the vast amount of older model vehicles that do not have this technology.

What can you do to protect children and yourself from a back-over accident?

As adults, we must not be satisfied with that proud moment when our children learn how to ride a bike for the first time. We must teach them of the dangers associated with riding a bicycle including things such as back-overs. Like bathing, educating your children does not last. Therefore, we must educate our children continuously about bike safety. Of course in order to do so, we must educate ourselves regarding bike safety and how to prevent bicycle accidents.

In addition to educating children about bike safety, I urge you, whether you have a rear-view camera on your vehicle or not, to take this simple precaution when getting in your vehicle in driveways and parking lots as 10 seconds could save a life: Walk all the way around your parked vehicle to check for children before getting in. In addition to looking directly around your vehicle, look down the block for kids playing on foot or riding their bicycles. Be aware of your surroundings before starting your engine. This five to ten-second walk around your vehicle just might prevent a tragedy.

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