Safety basics: bicycles, scooters and skateboards
Here’s a list of safety basics for when your child is learning to ride bicycles, scooters and skateboards:
- Make sure your child rides a bicycle, scooter or skateboard that’s suitable for their age, size and ability.
- Wear a helmet. Helmets are compulsory for all children and adults when riding bikes in all Australian states and territories, and when riding scooters, skateboards and rollerblades in some states.
- Use protective gear like wrist guards, elbow pads and knee pads when riding a scooter, rollerblading or skateboarding.
- Dress your child in brightly coloured clothing. This helps riders, pedestrians and drivers see your child.
- 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, like your backyard or a park, before heading onto a bike path or footpath.
- Always make sure a grown-up is with your child while they’re riding, until your child is at least 12-13 years old.
Helmets: a safety essential
In all Australian states and territories, helmets are compulsory for riding bikes. In some states, helmets are also compulsory when riding skateboards, scooters, rollerblades and so on.
Wearing a helmet is always recommended when your child is riding any wheeled device, even if it isn’t required by law. A helmet is an essential part of protecting 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. 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.
- Make sure the helmet isn’t damaged. For example, check that there are no cracks and that the foam liner is intact.
- 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.
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.
When your child is wearing a bike, scooter or skateboarding helmet, the chinstrap should always be firmly fastened and not twisted.
When children get off their bikes, scooters or skateboards, they should always remove their helmets. Helmets can be choking hazards if children are doing activities other than riding.
You can set a good example for your child by always wearing a helmet when you’re riding a bike, scooter or skateboard.
Bicycles: safety guidelines
Learning to ride
Be prepared to spend a lot of time with your child while they master the basic skills of balancing, steering and braking. Choose a flat, open space away from traffic, with a soft surface in case of falls.
When your child has learned the basics, your child needs time and practice to develop skills for riding safely on the street and in traffic. These skills are still developing until your child is about 12-13 years old. They include being able to:
- control the bike on different road surfaces
- follow road rules for both cyclists and drivers, like staying to the left, obeying road signs and giving way to pedestrians
- make the signals for turning and passing
- be aware of other riders, drivers and pedestrians and predict what they’re going to do
- approach driveways, laneways and intersections slowly and carefully
- pass parked vehicles slowly and carefully
- walk the bike across pedestrian crossings instead of riding across the street.
Extra riding lessons from a school-based bicycle education program can help your child develop these skills.
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. You’ll know the bike is the right size if your child can straddle the bike and touch the ground with both feet at the same time. Your child will need to change to bigger bikes as they grow.
Bike condition checklist
It’s important to regularly check the condition of bikes, especially before use. To check that a bike is in good working order, make sure that it has:
- correctly working brakes
- a well-oiled chain that isn’t loose
- fully inflated and firm tyres, with no bald spots or patches
- pedals that spin freely and easily
- a clear bell or horn in good working order
- clean and secure reflectors and lights – a white light at the front and a red light and red reflector at the back for night-time riding
- a firm seat that’s adjusted to your child’s height
- handlebar grips and covered handlebar ends.
What to wear
Your child must wear:
- a properly fitted and firmly fastened bike helmet
- enclosed footwear to protect your child’s feet if they get caught in the spokes or chain or your child uses their feet as brakes
- brightly coloured clothing to help other riders, drivers and pedestrians see your child.
Where to ride
Bike paths are the best place for learning and practising, but in some states and territories, children up to a certain age and the adults supervising them can legally ride on footpaths. Check with your local council for information about your area.
If your child wants or needs to ride on footpaths and this is allowed in your area, make sure that your child:
- rides with you or another supervising adult
- watches for vehicles turning into and coming out of driveways and laneways
- cycles slowly and carefully around other people and dogs.
Things to avoid
Here are some cycling situations to avoid:
- Wet weather: riding in wet weather needs different skills and extra caution. It’s best for your child to avoid this when they’re young and still learning bike safety basics.
- Night-time: your child shouldn’t ride at night. To ride at night, you need special equipment like lights and visibility vests. You also need good traffic awareness and understanding of driver behaviour.
- Stunt riding: discourage dangerous behaviour like ‘look no hands’ and ‘dinking’.
Scooters: safety guidelines
Hospitals report many children arriving at emergency departments after falling off metal scooters. To minimise risk, follow these steps.
Check that the scooter has:
- good brakes – 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.
Scooter lights are a legal requirement for night-time – a white light at the front, and a red light and red reflector at the back. But your child shouldn’t scoot at night.
What to wear
Your child should wear a properly fitted and firmly fastened helmet. 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 they learn to use the scooter in a safe place, like a dual footpath/bike path, which is away from roads, driveways and steep slopes.
- Find out if your local skate park offers scooter lessons.
- Supervise your child when they’re riding a scooter on the streets before judging whether they can scoot alone safely.
- Teach your child road safety rules.
Electric powered scooters can go fast. This increases the risk of crashes. There are legal requirements for using e-scooters, and these requirements vary across Australian states and territories. It’s important to check the requirements with your state or territory road authority before letting your child use an e-scooter.
Skateboards, rollerblades and rollerskates: 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 they use 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 and clothing can help your child stay safe on skateboards, rollerblades or rollerskates:
- a properly fitted and firmly fastened skate helmet – 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
- enclosed footwear
- brightly coloured clothing.
- Make sure the skateboard, rollerblades or rollerskates are suited to the size of your child and type of skating they do.
- Check and maintain the skateboard, rollerblades or roller skates regularly, especially the wheels.
- Don’t skate at night except in a well-lit skate park.
- Teach your child to skate within their limits. Complicated tricks take practice, so make sure your child builds up to them.
Where to skate, rollerblade or rollerskate
- Start your child off in your own backyard, in a park, on a bike path or at a skate park with beginner slopes.
- Discourage your child from skating, rollerblading or rollerskating on the footpath or road – they’re much more likely to have a crash near cars or pedestrians.
- Supervise young children at all times when they’re skating, rollerblading or rollerskating.