child on tricycle wearing a helmet

Riding a bike is a fun way to enjoy time outside and get some exercise. Unfortunately, it can also be dangerous. In 2011, 677 bicyclists died and many more were injured.1 Many of these deaths and injuries could have been prevented by following a few safety tips. The Keeping Kids Safe program at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital wants to make sure that kids have a fun – and safe – time by teaching families some simple, but important, safety tips.

Our thanks to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for allowing us to share the following materials with you.

Bicycle Helmet Safety

Biking is a great outdoor activity for the whole family. That’s why bicycle safety is important for cyclists of all ages.

Wearing a bicycle helmet is key. According to estimates from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, bike helmet use can reduce the odds of head injury by 50 percent and the odds of head, face, or neck injury by 33 percent.

While it may seem like a no-brainer that wearing a helmet is a safer way to bike, many adults still don’t wear them while riding.

“Oftentimes you see families riding bicycles, and the children may have helmets on, but the adults do not,” says Pam Hoogerwerf, director of community outreach and injury prevention at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. “One of our big goals is to help parents and adult riders understand why they need to have a helmet on if they are requiring their younger children to also wear one.”

Wearing a bike helmet helps set a good example for kids just starting to ride, Hoogerwerf notes, and fitting the helmet correctly is an essential first step.

“Even though we may see helmets on people’s heads, the fitting and the wearing of them is still being misunderstood and misused,” she says.

Following is a simple list of instructions to help ensure that you or your child’s helmet fits securely:

  • The helmet should be level on the head. Keep it low on the forehead with two finger widths between the helmet and eyebrow.
  • Make sure the chin strap is tight. There should be enough room for one finger’s width of space between the strap and the chin.
  • Adjust the sliders on both straps to make a V-shape underneath the ears.
  • Gently try to slide the helmet back and forth on the head. The helmet should not move more than a half inch in any direction.

Following these steps will lead to safer and more enjoyable bike riding for the entire family.

Bike helmets for children and adults can be purchased through the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital Safety Store for only $9.

Biking Basics

Wear a Bike Helmet
Protect your brain, save your life.

Adjust Your Bike to Fit
Stand over your bike. There should be 1 to 2 inches between the rider and the top tube (bar) if using a road bike and 3 to 4 inches if using a mountain bicycle. The seat should be level front to back, and the height should be adjusted to allow a slight bend at the knee when the leg is fully extended. The handlebar height should be at the same level with the seat.

Check Your Equipment
Before riding, inflate tires properly and check that the brakes work.

See and Be Seen
Whether daytime, dawn, dusk, foul weather, or at night, make yourself visible. Wear neon, fluorescent or other bright colors when riding, to make you the most visible to others. Also wear something that reflects light, such as reflective tape or markings, or flashing lights. Remember, just because you can see a driver doesn’t mean the driver can see you. 

Control Your Bike
Ride with two hands on the handlebars unless signaling a turn. Place books and other items in a bike carrier or backpack.

Watch for and Avoid Road Hazards
Look for hazards that may make you crash, such as potholes, broken glass, gravel, puddles, leaves, and dogs.

Use Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication
This includes eye contact with drivers, turn signals, pointing to road hazards for bicyclists behind you, and stating “passing on your left,” or “on your left.”

Avoid Riding at Night
It’s harder for other road users to see bicyclists at dusk, dawn or nighttime. Use reflectors on the front and rear of the bike. White lights and red rear reflectors or lights are required by law in all States.

Rules for Biking on the Road

In all states, bikes on the roadway are considered vehicles, and bicyclists are the drivers of those vehicles, with the same rights and responsibilities as other motorists to follow the rules of the road, including:

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

Obey all traffic laws
As the driver of your vehicle on the road, obey all traffic signs, signals, and lane markings.

Yield to traffic
Almost always, drivers on a smaller road must yield (wait) for traffic on a major or larger road. If there is no stop sign or traffic signal and you are coming from a smaller roadway (out of a driveway, from a sidewalk, a bike path, etc.), slow down, look for traffic, and go only when it’s clear. Also yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk.

Be predictable
Ride in a straight line, not in and out of cars. Signal your moves to others.

Stay alert at all times
Use your eyes AND ears. Look for potholes, cracks, wet leaves, storm grates, railroad tracks, or anything that could make you lose control of your bike. Listen for traffic and avoid dangerous situations; don’t use personal electronic devices when you ride.

Look before turning
When turning left or right, always look behind you for a break in traffic, and then signal before making the turn. Watch for left- or right-turning traffic.

Watch for parked cars
Ride far enough out from the curb to avoid the unexpected from parked cars (like doors opening, or cars pulling out).

Where to Ride Safely

Use bike lanes or bike paths, if available.

  • While bicycles are allowed on many roads, riders may feel safer being separated from traffic. A lane or path is a safer choice than riding on a sidewalk.
  • Riding on sidewalks puts you in a place where cars do not look for or expect to see moving traffic.
  • Sidewalk riding puts you at risk for crashes at driveways and intersections.

If you don’t know the rules of the road, or your parents feel like you aren’t ready to ride on the street, avoid riding your bike near traffic altogether.

For anyone riding on a sidewalk:

  • Check the law in your State or jurisdiction to make sure sidewalk riding is allowed.
  • Watch for vehicles coming out of or turning into driveways.
  • Stop at corners of sidewalks and streets to look for cars and to make sure the drivers see you before crossing.
  • Enter a street at a corner and not between parked cars. Alert pedestrians that you are nearby, saying, “Passing on your left,” or use a bell or horn.

Helpful Resources

1U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (April 2013). Traffic Facts 2011 Data: Bicyclists and Other Cyclists. Washinton D.C.: NHTSA's National Center for Statistics and Analysis.