Falling off is part of learning to ride bicycles, scooters and skateboards, so it’s important to know how to keep children safe once they start riding. Your child’s safety starts with protective gear, safety lessons and riding in safe places.
Safety basics: bicycles, scooters and skateboards
Here’s a list of safety basics to get you and your child started on the fun of learning to ride bicycles, scooters and skateboards:
- Wear a helmet. Helmets are compulsory when riding bikes and scooters and recommended when riding skateboards.
- Use protective gear and do cycle training to help protect your child against serious injuries – falls can and do happen.
- Teach your child to look carefully at the riding environment to decide whether it’s safe to ride.
- Give your child some practice in a safe area, such as your backyard or a park, before heading onto the footpath or road.
- Always make sure a grown-up is with your child while she’s riding, until she’s at least 10 years old – no matter how much she knows about road safety and how good she is at riding.
Helmets are compulsory for riding bikes and scooters and recommended for riding skateboards. Wearing a helmet will help protect your child against serious head injuries.
Here are tips for finding the safest helmet for bikes and scooters:
- Make sure that the helmet is made to Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 2063:2008 for bicycle helmets. Look for the Australian Standards label.
- Take your child with you when buying a helmet to make sure it’s properly fitted.
- Do the ‘push test’ to make sure the helmet is a snug fit. If you can push the helmet backwards, forwards or sideways once you’ve done up the clips, it’s too big.
Don’t buy a second-hand helmet – there’s no way of knowing if the previous owner has damaged it in an accident.
- Always replace helmets after an impact or accident.
A skateboarding helmet should protect the back of your child’s head, so a bike helmet is the wrong shape for skateboarding. There is no Australian Standard for skateboarding helmets. You can still use the tips above to get the right fit.
Grown-ups must wear helmets too. It’s a legal requirement and sets the right example for your child.
Bicycles: safety guidelines
To ride safely in traffic, your child must be able to do all of the following things at once:
- Control the bike on road surfaces of varying quality.
- Deal with obstacles appropriately.
- Be aware of and predict the traffic movement around him.
- Understand the road rules that apply both to cyclists and drivers.
- Make safe, split-second decisions.
Your child is still developing the skills and experience to do all of these things at once and consistently until she’s 12-13 years old.
Like a young driver, your child needs plenty of supervised practice before gaining his independence, so be prepared to spend a lot of time with him while he masters the skills of balancing, steering and braking. Choose a flat open space away from traffic, with a surface that’s softer in case of falls.
A lot of injuries happen because a child is trying to ride a bike that’s too big. Make sure your child’s first bike is the right size, and be prepared to change her to bigger bikes as she grows. You’ll know the bike is the right size if your child can straddle her bike and touch the ground with both feet at the same time.
Bike condition checklist
To check that a bike is in good working order, make sure the:
- brakes work correctly
- chain is well oiled and not loose
- tyres are firm, with no bald spots or patches
- pedals spin easily
- bell or horn can be heard clearly
- reflectors and lights are clean and secure
- seat is adjusted to suit your child’s height
- handlebar ends are covered by hand grips.
What to wear
Your child must wear a helmet, with the chinstrap firmly fastened and not twisted. It’s also a good idea for your child to wear knee and elbow pads and wrist guards.
Safe riding checklist
- If your child is under 10 years, he needs to cycle with a grown-up, preferably on bike paths.
- Children under 12 years are allowed to ride on the footpath. Encourage your child to watch for vehicles coming out of driveways.
- Teach your child to walk her bike across pedestrian crossings instead of riding across the street.
- Children must show that they can follow road rules and predict what cars will do before being allowed to cycle alone. This takes a long time and a lot of practice.
- Show your child that he needs to approach driveways and intersections with caution. Riding onto the road from a driveway is particularly risky as parked vehicles can hide a bicycle rider from oncoming drivers.
- Teach your child that riding in wet weather needs different skills and extra caution.
- Teach your child to wear enclosed footwear when riding, rather than thongs or bare feet. Your child might hurt bare feet if they get caught in the spokes or chain, or if they’re used as brakes.
- Your child shouldn’t ride at night. To ride at night, you need special equipment (lights, visibility vests), acute traffic awareness and understanding of driver behaviour.
- Discourage stunt riding. ‘Look no hands’ and ‘dinking’ are unsafe.
Learning to ride
Learning to balance and control a bicycle might result in a few falls, but most children get the hang of balance and control fairly quickly. Then it takes a lot of time and practice to develop the skills and understanding to ride safely in the street and in traffic.
Once your child masters the basic skills, give her as many opportunities to ride under supervision as you can manage. Bike paths are best, but in some states and territories, children up to a certain age and the adults supervising them can legally ride on the footpath. Check with your local council for information about your area.
When your child starts learning to ride, it’s best if he:
- learns away from traffic and in a safe place, such as a backyard or park
- learns somewhere that provides a soft landing for falls, such as on grass
- learns at his own pace
- has good adult role models who always wear their helmets
- gets extra lessons from a school-based bicycle education program when he’s 9-10 years old.
Scooters: safety guidelines
Hospitals report lots of children arriving at emergency departments after falling off metal mini-scooters. Scooters aren’t appropriate for children under eight years.
To minimise risk, follow these steps.
Check that the scooter has:
- good brakes and locks – check the brakes regularly because they’ll wear down as they get older
- no sharp edges
- a steering column that locks easily, won’t collapse and isn’t too short for your child
- a bell or horn
- handlebar grips that don’t swivel
- a running board high off the ground
- anti-skid footboards
- lights – a white light at the front and a red light and red reflector at the back.
What to wear
Your child must wear a helmet, with the chinstrap firmly fastened and not twisted. It’s also a good idea for your child to wear knee and elbow pads and wrist guards – broken wrists are a common scooter injury.
Learning to scoot
- Supervise your child as she learns to use the scooter in a safe place, such as a dual footpath/bike path that’s away from roads, driveways and steep slopes.
- Find out if your local skate park offers scooter lessons.
- Supervise your child when he’s riding a scooter on the streets before judging whether he can scoot alone safely.
- Teach your child road safety rules.
Skateboards and rollerblades: safety guidelines
Teach your child how to fall in a safe way. It’s a good idea to give your child some falling practice on a grassy patch before she hits the skate ramp.
Here are some tips for falling safely:
- Bend your knees and get down low.
- Try to fall sideways, not backwards or head first.
- Try to land on your shoulder and roll.
- Fall onto your pads.
- Kick the board out from under your feet.
What to wear
The following protective gear can help your child stay safe on a skateboard:
- a skate helmet with the chinstrap firmly fastened and not twisted – the helmet should protect the back of your child’s head and sit just above the eyebrows.
- wrist guards – broken wrists are a common skating injury
- elbow and knee pads.
- Make sure the skateboard is suited to the size of your child and type of skating he does.
- Check and maintain the skateboard or rollerblades regularly, especially the wheels.
- Wear bright colours or reflective clothes if skating in the evening.
- Don’t skate at night.
- Teach your child to skate within her limits. Complicated tricks take practice, so make sure your child builds up to complicated moves.
Where to skate
- Start your child off in your own backyard, in a park, on a bike path or at a skate bowl with beginner slopes.
- Discourage your child from skating on the footpath or road – he’s much more likely to have an accident skating near cars or pedestrians.
- Supervise young children at all times when they’re skating.