By Barbra Williams Cosentino, R.N., C.S.W.

The care and maintenance of kids & bicycles

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May marks the 52nd annual observation of National Bike Month, a time when over five million participants take part in activities celebrating the perennially popular pastime of bicycling. Health professionals tout the many benefits of biking ? which include cardiovascular fitness, enhanced coordination and balance, and increased endurance. However, bicycling has its risks, many of which can be minimized by remembering that a bicycle is a vehicle, not a toy. According to figures compiled by the National Safe Kids Campaign and the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, more than one million riders, including 400,000 children under the age of 14, incur serious bicycling-related injuries every year.

As parents and educators, there are things we can do to help our children ride safely. There are three components to consider: teaching them to follow the rules of the road; providing them with safety-related paraphernalia such as helmets and reflectors; and seeing that their bicycles are maintained in good working order.

SEVEN RULES OF THE ROAD TO TEACH YOUNG CYCLISTS

1. Ride in the same direction as traffic, and stay to the right-hand side of the road. 2. If you're riding with others, always ride single file. 3. Don't dart in and out of traffic. 4. Use proper signals when stopping and turning, and signal at least 100 feet ahead of your move. 5. Obey the same regulations as pedestrians and motorists ? stop at red lights and stop signs, and take extra care at intersections and when turning. Give pedestrians the right of way. 6. Always wear proper riding gear ? sneakers or athletic shoes; fitted clothing which won't get caught in the spokes; and a well-fitting, properly placed safety helmet. 7. Try to avoid falling, which is the most common cause of bicycle accidents. Stop, start and turn smoothly, and bypass grooves and ruts in the road.

PROPER SAFETY EQUIPMENT & BIKE MAINTENANCE

The National Safe Kids Campaign urges parents to insist that a helmet is worn correctly every time the child goes for a ride. The wearing of bicycle helmets, already law in many countries, has been shown to reduce the risk of head injury by as much as 85 percent and brain injury by as much as 88 percent. If you think kids can't be seriously hurt riding their bicycles, consider that collisions with motor vehicles account for 90 percent of all bicycle-related deaths, and consider the impact when a child lands after being thrown into the air. Roughly 350,000 children aged 14 and under are treated each year in emergency rooms for bicycle-related injuries. Kids may complain about having to wear a helmet, just as they may complain about having to buckle up in the car. But ask yourself: isn't this one battle worth winning?

Randy Swaft, director of the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, adds: "Although the use of helmets is a crucial secondary safety measure, they do not substitute for safe riding, safer bicycle facilities, and educating drivers and cyclists." For helmets to provide the most protection from head trauma, they should be worn straight on the head and placed low on the forehead. They should fit snugly (specially-made foam pads can be added if necessary) and have a chin strap which fastens securely. Helmets should bear a safety sticker showing they've met certain approved standards (the acceptable ones now are ASTM/SEI, the Snell Memorial Foundation, and the U.S.C.P.S.C.). Beginning in 1999, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission will develop a set of comprehensive standards which will be regulated by the federal government.

Other necessary safety equipment includes a white headlight, a rear red reflector, and white or yellow reflectors on the pedals. Tubular padding can be added to the bicycle frame, adding extra protection in case of falls. Riders should wear light-colored clothing at night.

Parents should perform monthly checks to make sure that bicycles are in good condition. Handlebars, seat and wheels must be tight; wheels should not wobble or rub. Pedals and brakes should work smoothly.According to the Injury Prevention Resource and Research Center at Dartmouth Medical Center, N.H., parents should take an active role in teaching young riders to cycle carefully, safely and correctly. After all, our children's health and well-being are at stake!

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