Cycling Safety

Let’s move on to cycling safety. The whole of the Cyclabilities program is premised on how wonderful cycling is. It’s fast and it’s fun, and provides a sense of freedom and independence, as well as a great opportunity for family time. There are lots of physical benefits, which are often extra important for children with additional needs. Cycling increases physical activity levels, it can improve gross motor skills, balance and coordination. At Cyclabilities we have also seen several psychological benefits, such as increased confidence, independence and social skills, as well as cognitive development and increased visual perception.

Despite all of these benefits, however, we also know that cyclists are particularly vulnerable road users.   Sound cycling safety skills are vital to ensure your child can safely and appropriately ride their bike.

Cycling Safety Statistics

We know cyclists as vulnerable road users but what does this mean exactly? Let look at the numbers. Between 2010 and 2014, 200 cyclists were killed on Australian roads (Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, 2015b). This represents 3% of all road fatalities in Australia.

However, as with the statistics looking at pedestrian safety, these numbers reflect only fatalities and not serious injuries or hospitalisations, and as such significantly underrepresent cycling injury. When we look more specifically at hospitalisations, we see that each year over 5000 cyclists are hospitalized in Australia (Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, 2015b). This accounts for approximately 15% of all road hospitalisations. Frighteningly, for all states and territories except Tasmania, the proportion of total cycling hospitalisations has increased over time (Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, 2015b).

Breaking it down a little further, children aged 0–16 years have the highest rate of cycling hospitalisations. In 2012, a total of 1030 children were hospitalised as a result of a cycling injury (Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, 2015b). Of note, boys were approximately four times more likely than girls to be hospitalised following a cycling crash (Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, 2015b).

As with pedestrian safety, we found nothing that specifically looks at cycling safety for children (or adults) with additional needs in our research. We do know however, that kids with additional needs are more vulnerable and at higher risk than developmentally typical kids. Like pedestrian skills, cycling safety skills relies of the integration of cognitive, social/emotional and physical development in a child. Children who experience delays in one or more of these areas may struggle to understand and demonstrate safe behavior. Delayed processing time and reaction times will have an impact on a child’s ability to respond to danger similar to typically developing children. Behavioral regulation, difficulties in maintaining attention, sensory issues, physical impairment or disability will all place a child with additional needs at greater risk.

Supporting your child to become a safe cyclist

At Cyclabilities, we work with some clear strategies you can use to support the development of your child’s cycling safety skills. Like those we identified for pedestrian safety, some will seem common sense, but we find in breaking it down we can look at how these strategies can support your child and allow you to reflect on how they can be incorporated into your everyday life.

Wear a helmet

We have gone over this before. If you’re riding a bike you need to wear a helmet. It is law in the ACT yes, but it is also smart. A major international study of bike helmet use around the world recently found helmets reduce the risks of a serious head injury by nearly 70% (Farrell, 2016). Ensure that the helmet you select has the Australian Standards logo sticker inside the helmet.

Our Before you Start manual goes into depth about how to ensure a helmet is fitted properly. Refer back and make sure your helmet, and the helmet your child is wearing are fitting properly. Wearing a helmet may present a challenge for some children with additional needs, they are meant to be relatively firm fitting and buckle under the chin. If you think this may be the case for your child, spend some time working on wearing a helmet before you look at bikes at all. Make this comfortable and familiar before introducing any other tasks.

Be visible (and noisy)

Making sure both the bike and the rider are clearly visible is an important safety measure. Visibility is affected by weather and time of day and the awareness of other road users. Make your child stand out as much as you can.

When it comes to the bike itself make sure it is fitted with reflective strips. As many as you can fit on there. These can be purchased cheaply from bike shops and will make the bike much easier to see. Also consider bike lights. This can include a headlight type set up or flashing lights to increase the visibility of the bike. While these are more expensive they go a long way to ensure the bike is visible.

Dressing for visibility is also a really easy way to ensure the bike and rider are visible. When riding, make sure your child is dressed in highly visible, bright, light coloured or reflective clothes. It may even be worth investing in a reflective vest.

While not about visibility, it is important to also make sure your child’s bike has a bell or a horn. Having the ability to make noise is a really important tool to let other road users know you’re there (if they missed the bright clothing, reflective strips and flashing lights!).

Choose where to ride and plan routes

One of the key ways to keep your child safe on their bike is to carefully choose where you go riding and to plan you route. This is particularly important for children with additional needs, as it allows you to tailor the ride to meet their particular needs as well as their skill level. If they’re averse to crowds or lots of noise, you can find a quiet space, away from busy roads.  If they need extra support to stay safe around water or traffic, you can avoid getting too close to bodies of water or busy roads. This planning will significantly impact whether the experience is positive or negative for your child, and ultimately the success of their learning to ride journey.

Certainly, while your child is becoming a proficient and safe cyclist choose quite space like quiet bike paths, local parks, or other safe and open spaces. Children under 12 years and adults accompanying them are allowed to ride on footpaths, so this may also be a good option, particularly around your local area. This will give your child the chance to focus on their riding and reduce the potential risk. As they become more competent and grow in confidence consider progressing to busier bike paths. Here they will need to adhere to road rules, understand and obey signs and potentially interact with other cyclists. For children with sensory issues, this will also provide an opportunity to integrate their riding skills and they management of sensory input.

Eventually, they may be ready to move onto roads. Avoid busy roads, instead choosing back roads with less traffic. Consider routes that involve left-hand turns (rather than right-hand turns), and fewer traffic hazards, crossings or lights. Here your child will be interacting with cars and other road traffic, as well as other cyclists and potentially pedestrians. In these environments, they will need to signal, competently check traffic around them and move though intersections. This may be very challenging for some children with additional needs, and may never be something they feel safe and comfortable doing. It’s important for us to remember if this is the case that’s ok. Recognizing their limits is an important skill both for them and for you as their carer.

Main roads are by far the most dangerous and stressful place to ride. Traffic levels are often high, there are lots of intersections and cross traffic and bucket loads of distractions. Where possible avoid them altogether. Don’t attempt these with your child until you are absolutely confident in their skill level (as well as yours), as well as their ability to behave appropriately in order to maintain their safety. Again, your child may not develop their skills and confidence to master this riding environment, and that is ok!

There are lots of cycling maps available online, and the ACT transport website has lots of local information (http://www.transport.act.gov.au/getting-around/active-travel/active-travel-for-the-community/cycling). Otherwise, you may want to get out and scout the route beforehand.

Tips for planning a family ride

At Cyclabilities we have identified a few tips and tricks to take into consideration when planning your family rides. While these are largely common sense it can be easy to get carried away.

  • Keep it short and let the slowest cyclist set the pace. If it is too long or too hard everyone will fatigue and will likely become ratty. It’s better that everyone enjoys themselves and comes home keen for the next ride. Be realistic about how far you can get.
  • Make it interesting. Kids get bored so plan plenty of breaks and ride ‘somewhere’ (a park or playground, duck pond or lunch). Make up games, like a ‘spotto’ list of things they can look for.
  • Take a friend. Your child will probably enjoy the ride more if they have a friend along, and they are likely to try a little harder. It is important to make sure the two are at roughly the same skill level.
  • Dress for the weather. Be sensible. If it’s hot, wear sun cream and light, sun smart clothes. Stay hydrated and don’t set out in the hottest part of the day. If it’s cold, dress your kids in layers they can shed as they warm up.
  • Feed the workers. Take snacks and drinks, it’s important to keep their energy and spirit levels up.

Become Hazard Aware

While you can’t control all the hazards in your child’s cycling environment, developing an awareness and understanding of road hazards with your child will allow them to take steps to minimize any risk. We suggest the best way to teach your children about these hazards is to make it interactive and fun. Set up a fake road with their toys, run through some scenario’s and clearly explain the potential risks. Similar to the Talking Traffic philosophy outlined in the pedestrian safety section, discuss safety issues when riding or walking with your child. We have identified some key hazards below you might like to focus on.

Other road users

It’s important that your child understands they are sharing the bike path or road with other road users. This may include vehicles, other bikes, pedestrians, small children, larger groups and pets. Work to develop your child’s understanding of how each of these may present a risk to them, as well as their responsibilities to respect other road users.

Condition of the cycling surface

The state of the road or path presents a potential hazard to all cyclists. Discuss with your child what they should be watchful for: rocks, potholes, cracks in the road, painted road markings, crumbling edges and wet or slippery roads.

Opening car doors

One of the biggest risks to bike riders on roads is car doors being opened into their path. The risk here is twofold, the cyclist may swerve out further into the road or collide with the car door. There a few things you can do to minimize this risk. If safe to do so, cycle one meter from parked cars to provide clearance. Check for drivers in parked vehicles. Ensure the bike is visible and noisy. Again, think carefully about the appropriateness of road riding for your child and their ability to manage this hazard.

Turning vehicles
Another particular risk to cyclists on roads or footpaths is turning traffic. Other road users may be turning onto another road or into a driveway and may not see cyclists. Teach your child to scan the traffic often, particularly when approaching cross roads. Again, ensure the bike and rider are as visible as possible, and whether the road is a safe choice.

Supervise and Share

Yep. Another one that comes down to you and your being involved. One of the best ways to support your child to become a safe and competent cyclist is to constantly supervise them and to share their cycling experience. Get on a bike next to them and make riding a family activity that you can share. There are so many benefits to cycling with your child, here are a couple:

  • You will be constantly modeling behaviour. They get to see how all of the things you talk to them about are actually executed. This will reinforce their learning and translate each skill into concrete practice.
  • You gain a family hobby. A shared experience, something you can engage in, talk about, plan, discuss together.
  • You have the opportunity to closely monitor your child and their skill development. You can see what their strengths are and identify areas that need a little extra work. You also get the chance to see when their ready to progress their skills.

Cycling Safety Skills

We have identified some basic safety rules to follow below. These are just a reference point to focus your bike safety thinking. They will put you in the right head space to identify additional safety practice that are relevant in your environment.

  • Wear a Helmet. Make sure you and your child are always wearing a correctly fitted, Australian standards approved, bicycle helmet (again with the helmet!).
  • Bike safe. Make sure your gear is safe. Check equipment for safety before each ride.
  • Dress safe. Wear appropriate clothing, think highly visible light coloured or reflective clothing.
  • Minimize distractions. Listening to music, texting or talking with a music player or mobile phone puts cyclists at significantly higher risk. Using a phone on a bike is illegal.   Make sure your child can completely focus on cycling and the conditions around them.
  • Follow the rules. Obey the road laws. Bicycles are vehicles, and under the law bike riders have the same rights and responsibilities as car drivers. When using a shared path give way to pedestrians.
  • Make noise. Always let walks or slower bike riders know you are about to pass by ringing your bell or calling out.
  • Be smart. Choose where and when you ride carefully. Plan your route.
  • Look and watch. Be aware of other road users particularly when they are approaching you from behind or pulling out in front of you.
  • Be door aware. Look out for drivers and passengers getting in and out of parked cars and be aware of the risk of car doors opening.
  • Go with the flow. Ride in the same direction as traffic.
  • Space out. Try to always keep bikes one meter from cars.
  • Always signal. When you are turning, signal left or right to let other roader users around you know what you’re up to. Easy. Just extend your arm out horizontally to indicate the direction you’re turning. Your hand should be open, with your palm facing forward.
  • Look back. Get into the habit of always scanning the road behind you. Looking back over a shoulder without losing balance will be a tricky skill for some kids to master. Until they gain competence supervise and consider a rear-view mirror.
  • Get in position. At an intersection, position yourself according to your intended direction beyond the intersection. This goes for roads and bike paths.
  • Dismount. Get off your bike to cross roads and cross at controlled intersection points.

Hints, Tips and Resources

There are some amazing resources out there that will help you support your child to develop their pedestrian and cycling safety skills. We have listed some of our favourites that we feel fit well with kids with additional needs. Don’t be limited by this list though. Focus on your child’s strengths and interests and have a look around.

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