Bike Safety

June 08, 2014

Riding a bike is fun. What kid doesn’t remember riding his or her bike throughout the summer?  

It’s also great exercise for adults, and something that a family can enjoy doing together.  It’s even a great way to save gas money and environmentally friendly.

But every year, the Emergency Departments at Penn Highlands Healthcare sees accidents involving bicycles, according to Dr. Joseph Clark, Emergency Medical Director for PHH.  

The majority of the cases are “kids without helmets that have unnecessary injuries,” Clark said. Some are kids on bikes unaware of surroundings that get struck by vehicles, and some accidents involving bicycles are caused by bikes without proper reflectors or warning lights or vehicles not respecting the right of way for bicyclists.

As it is National Safety Month, it's a good time to talk about what we can to be safe. There are a few suggestions from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Dr. Clark:

First of all, everyone  should wear bicycle helmets.  Make sure you get the right size. Measure your head to find your size. Try on several helmets in your size until one feels right – that means it sits level on your head about two fingers width up from your eyebrows. Adjust the strap to form a V with your ear in the middle.  Buckle it at the chin that it that no more than one or two fingers can slide in. It should be snug and not move.

Also, make sure your bike fits you.  Stand over your bicycle. There should be 1-2 inches between the rider and the top bar if using a road bike and 3-4 inches if using a mountain bike. 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 level with the seat.

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

 No matter what time of day, make sure you can be seen. Wear neon, fluorescent or other bright colors when riding. 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 the bicycle. Ride with two hands on the handlebars, except when signaling a turn. Place books and other items in a bicycle carrier or backpack.

Look for hazards such as potholes, broken glass, gravel, puddles, leaves, and dogs. All these hazards can cause a crash.

Where should you ride?

Children younger than 10 years old are not consistently able to make the decisions necessary to safely ride unsupervised in the street. Therefore, they are safer riding away from traffic on paths and with close supervision.

If you are over age 10, when you are riding, go with the traffic flow. Ride on the right in the same direction as other vehicles. Go with the flow – not against it. Riding on sidewalks puts you in a place where cars do not look for or expect to see moving traffic, and sidewalk riding puts you at risk for crashes at driveways and intersections.

When you ride in the street, obey all traffic signs, signals, and lane markings.

Yield to traffic. Always down and look to see if the way is clear before proceeding through any intersection even the other street has a stop sign. Treat driveways as mini-roads. People don’t often look when pulling out.  

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.

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

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

Enter a street at a corner and not between parked cars.

And work with people who walk.  Alert them that you are nearby, saying, “Passing on your left,” or use a bell or horn.

The best thing to do is 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.

“While we in the ED are very happy to care for you or your loved one,” Clark said, “giving bad news or dealing with a severely injured child from an avoidable accident, is something we’d all like to avoid.”