Rules of the road for cycling safety


August 30, 1994|By Dr. Genevieve Matanoski | Dr. Genevieve Matanoski,Medical Tribune News Service

The long days of summer and crisp fall conditions see countless children (and adults) turn to bicycles for recreation and transportation. Whether for a spin around the block, a summer camping trip, a commute to school or office, or in a few months, a spectacular tour through the fall foliage, bicycling attracts millions of enthusiasts, young and old, novice and experienced, across the country.

Bicycling can provide your children exercise, time to enjoy the outdoors and independence from car pools and buses. However, every year, more than 900 bicyclists are killed, 20,000 are admitted to hospitals and 580,000 are treated in emergency rooms.

According to Susan Baker, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, many of these cycling injuries and deaths are preventable.

Where can my child cycle safely?

The less traffic, the better. Motor vehicles are involved in 90 percent to 92 percent of bicyclist deaths, and 12 percent of injuries. If there are places available where bicycle routes are separated from motor-vehicle traffic, these are by far the safest places to ride. Of course, this often is not possible. If your children ride with cars or trucks, be sure they know the rules of the road. They should ride in the same direction as the traffic and avoid roads where cars travel at higher speeds.

Should my child wear a bicycle helmet?

The best way to protect your child from a bicycle injury is to have him or her wear a helmet. Head injuries are responsible for an estimated 70 percent to 80 percent of all bicycling fatalities, and some 40 percent of bicyclists who are admitted to hospitals have a head injury that could have been prevented with a helmet.

How can I convince my child to wear a helmet?

Unfortunately, peer pressure may be at work against you here. Fatal bicycling injuries are most common in children 10 to 14 years old, just at the time they are pushing their independence and listening more closely to their peers than to their parents. One idea is to get the parents of your child's riding buddies to agree on a helmet rule for the whole group. It's a question of safety and the prevention of disability and even death.

What about safety rules for adults?

As with children, adults always should wear helmets. In addition, just as you should not mix drinking and driving, you should not consume alcohol before or during bicycling. Alcohol figures prominently in bicycle injuries. Of all fatally injured bicyclists, studies show 32 percent had been drinking.

Where can I learn more about bicycle safety?

For information about bicycling safety, regulations and bike trails in Maryland, call the Maryland State Highway Administration Bicycle Hotline at (800) 252-8776.

For Baltimore metropolitan area information, including where to purchase approved helmets, call the Baltimore Bicycling Club at (410) 792-8308.

Dr. Genevieve Matanoski is a physician and epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. She is a founding director of the school's Institute for Women's Health Research and Policy.

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