By Raising Children Network
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Riding a bike, scooter or skateboard is lots of fun for children – and great exercise. Falling off is part of learning to ride, so it’s important to know how to keep children safe once they start riding.
Young boys in protective skateboard gear

Did you knowQuestion mark symbol

  • Children aged five to nine have the highest hospitalisation rate for falls, and as they get older the falls are more likely to be from bikes, skateboards and rollerblades.
  • Older children are still developing skills, and they take greater risks – climbing higher, balancing more precariously and riding faster.
 

The basics

  • Protective gear and cycle training are important to help protect against serious injuries, because falls can and do happen.
  • Teach your child to ask you where it is OK to ride.
  • Give your child some practice in a safe area, such as in your backyard or at a park.
  • No matter how good your child’s knowledge of road safety and how advanced her cycling skills, always make sure a grown-up is with her until she’s at least 10 years old.
Bicycle helmets are compulsory. It’s important that they fit and are approved by Standards Australia to help protect against serious head injuries; knee and elbow pads and wrist guards are also advisable. Remember – children are almost twice as likely to break their arms riding a scooter or skateboard as riding a bike.

Bicycle safety checklist

In order to ride safely in traffic, a rider must be able to manage all the following simultaneously:

  • control the bike on road surfaces of varying quality
  • deal with obstacles appropriately
  • be aware of and predict the traffic movement around them
  • understand the road rules that apply both to cyclists and drivers
  • make safe, split-second decisions.

Your child doesn’t have the ability or experience to do all of these things simultaneously and consistently until he’s 12 or 13 years old. Like a young driver, he 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 OK for falling on.

A lot of injuries occur 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 bicycle and touch the ground with both feet at the same time.

To check that the 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 the child’s height
  • handlebar ends are covered by hand grips.

Helmet safety checklist

  • It’s compulsory to wear a helmet when riding a bike.
  • When buying a bike helmet, make sure it’s an approved helmet with a sticker showing the Australian Standard AS 2063 (AS/NZS 2063).
  • Don’t buy a second-hand helmet – there’s no way of knowing if the previous owner has damaged it in an accident.
  • 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.
  • Grown-ups must also wear a helmet. It’s a legal requirement, but also sets the right example for your child.

Safe riding

  • If your child is under 10 he’ll need to cycle with a grown-up, preferably on bike paths.
  • Teach your child to walk her bike across pedestrian crossings instead of riding across the street.
  • Children need to 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.
  • Demonstrate to your child that driveways and intersections must be approached with caution. Riding onto the road from a driveway is particularly risky as parked vehicles can obscure a bicycle rider’s presence from oncoming drivers.
  • Teach your child that riding in wet weather requires different skills and extra caution.
  • Teach your child to wear enclosed footwear when riding, rather than thongs or bare feet. Bare feet can be hurt if they catch in the spokes or chain, or if they’re used as brakes.
  • Your child shouldn’t ride at night. Special equipment (lights, visibility vests), acute traffic awareness and understanding of driver behaviour are needed.
  • Discourage stunt riding. ‘Look no hands’ and ‘dinking’ are asking for trouble.

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. It will then take a lot of time and practice to develop the skills and understanding to ride safely in the street and in traffic.

Once the basic skills are mastered, your child should be given 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 relating to your area.

When your child starts learning to ride, it’s best if they:

  • learn away from traffic and in a safe place, such as a backyard or park
  • learn somewhere that provides a soft landing for falls, such as grass
  • learn at their own pace
  • have good adult role models who always wear their helmets
  • take extra lessons from a school-based bicycle-education program when they reach 9-10 years of age.

Read CHOICE magazine’s guide to buying bikes.

Skateboard and rollerblade safety checklist

Safe falling

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.

Tips for falling safely:

  • bend your knees and get down low
  • try to fall sideways, not backwards or head first
  • fall onto your pads.

What to wear

  • A skate helmet that protects the back of the head (a bike helmet is the wrong shape). If you can push the helmet backward or forwards once you’ve done up the clips, the helmet is too big and won’t protect your child’s head properly. Look for the Standards Australia mark on the helmet.
  • Wrist guards – broken wrists are a common skating injury.
  • Elbow and knee pads.

Where to skate

  • Start your child off in your own backyard, in a park, on a bike path or at a skate bowl with beginners’ 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.

Scooter safety checklist

Hospitals report lots of children arriving at emergency departments after falling off metal mini-scooters. To minimise risk, follow these steps.

Check that the scooter has:

  • good brakes and locks
  • 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.

What to wear

  • A skate helmet that protects the back of the head (a bike helmet is the wrong shape). If you can push the helmet backward or forwards once you’ve done up the clips, the helmet is too big and won’t protect your child's head properly. Look for the Standards Australia mark on the helmet.
  • Wrist guards – broken wrists are a common scooter injury.
  • Knee and elbow pads.

Learning to scoot

  • Supervise 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 she’s riding a scooter on the streets before judging whether she can scoot alone safely.
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  • Last Updated 12-01-2011
  • Last Reviewed 31-05-2010
  • Ashby, K., & Corbo, M. (2000). Child fall injuries: An overview, Hazard, 44, 1-20.

    Scott, D., Hockey, R., Barker, R., & Pitt, R. (2005). Bicycle injury in Queensland. Queensland Injury Surveillance Unit, 86.

    Steenkamp, M., & Cripps, R. (2001). Child injuries due to falls. Injury Research and Statistics Series. Adelaide: AIHW.

    Thompson, D.C., Rivara, F.P., Thompson, R. (1999). Helmets for preventing head and facial injuries in bicyclists. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 4.