Walking, Biking, Scooter, School Bus and Shopping Cart Safety
Walking and cycling are terrific ways for kids and grown-ups to get around, get to school, take family outings, and stay active and healthy. A few simple precautions can help keep everyone safer while out being physically active.
What are the risks to kids out and about, and how can I keep them safe?
Be aware of your child’s developmental stage and know the risks for their stage. Parents often think children are able to handle traffic safely by themselves before kids are actually ready.,
- Kids are not small adults. They see, hear, think, and act differently in traffic than adults. Find out the details of kids’ limitations, and how you can help your child become a better pedestrian and cyclist.
- Children cannot reliably and consistently accurately judge the speed or distance of oncoming cars.
- Children under age 9-10 should cross the street with an adult.
- In one study, the middle-most (median) age of kids hurt or killed when crossing the street mid-block was six. These mid-block accidents accounted for over half the deaths and injuries in the study. 
- More than half of pedestrian injuries to kids under age nine happen when kids dart out into the street unexpectedly, often mid-block, and often from between parked cars.
- Kids should not ride bikes in the street until they fully understand traffic rules and show they can follow them.
- Toddlers are most often hurt by a car backing up. Find out more about backover accidents and how to prevent them.
- Never carry a baby under age one on a bike or in a bike trailer. Babies this young do not yet have enough back and neck strength to sit up and wear a helmet.
Be aware of other risk factors.
- Boys are at greater risk than girls for pedestrian traffic injury.
- Injuries occur most often between 3:00 and 7:00 pm.
- Most child pedestrian injuries happen in good weather, when kids are playing outside.
Know and teach guidelines for safe walking and biking. Remember the power of teaching by example!
- Walk and ride bikes with your child, and take advantage of the chance to model and teach safe street crossing and biking.
- Teach your kids to look left, right, then left again before stepping into the street.
- Teach them to cross the street at designated crossings.
- Teach them to cross only when there are no cars coming.
- Children should always walk on the sidewalk.
- Where there are no sidewalks, you should walk on the side of the street facing traffic.
- Teach your kids to recognize crossing signals. Remind them to keep going even if the light starts blinking “don’t walk” while they are in the street.
- Teach your child to be cautious when crossing where cars are parked on the street. Oncoming traffic won’t see them until they come into view from behind the parked cars, and they can’t see whether any traffic is coming unless they carefully peer around the parked cars before stepping out into the street.
- Teach your child cycling hand signals (go to page four to find the pictures), and use them yourself.
- For yourself and your child, look over this thorough review of cycling tips, skills, and information. Keep in mind it’s a Canadian site, so the traffic laws may vary from those in your state.
- More on what to teach children and teens about cycling:
Help your child identify safe routes to and from their destinations.
- Walkability checklist: PDF or interactive.
- Bikeability checklist: PDF or interactive.
- The National Safe Routes to School Clearinghouse
Have your child wear appropriate safety gear for their activity.
- To improve your child’s visibility, dress them in clothing with reflectors at night and bright day-glow colors during the day and in low-light conditions.
- Start good habits with your toddler by having them wear helmets on their big-wheels and tricycles.
- Set a good example  by wearing a helmet yourself, and riding with your child.
- Wear a helmet when biking, inline skating, riding a scooter and skateboarding.
- Helmets could prevent 88% of serious brain injuries  69% of head injuries  and 65% of injuries to the mid and upper face .
- Make sure helmets meet safety standards and are fitted and worn properly .
- A helmet should cover the forehead (two finger widths above the eyebrows) and sit snug and level on the head. Make sure it doesn’t slide around.
- A logical consequence for your child’s failure to wear a helmet is to lose bicycle, scooter, skate or skateboard privileges for a period of time. Find out more about positive discipline and consequences .
- For more on helmets, see the American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement  on bicycle helmets.
- Links to more articles on child helmets.
When you are driving, be alert for children and stick to the speed limit.
How can I find out more about safe walking and biking for children?Visit these useful pages:
- Safe walking and biking for toddlers and preschoolers.
- Safe walking and biking for young school kids.
- The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center has lots of helpful safety information and more.
- Scooter safety from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
- More scooter information from the CPSC.
- Powered Scooter Study Shows Just 4 in 10 Victims Wore Helmets: Few Used Any Other Safety Gear
At this point in time, there is not enough data to tell which is safer: bike seats or trailers. What we do know is that any child who rides in a bike-mounted seat or bike-towed trailer should wear a helmet   . Kids under age one should not ride along—they don’t have the necessary neck and back strength yet. Ask your pediatrician about bike trailers. The ride can be extremely bumpy for a young child, and may not be healthy for their brain.
How can I learn more about helmets and bicycle carriers for children?
Check out these links from the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute about helmets and bike carriers for children.
How can I improve the safety of my neighborhood or community for my kids when they are playing, biking or walking?
- Find out what the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration suggests to create safer streets and play places for children.
- How bikeable is your community? Take this interactive questionnaire or print the pdf version, and find out—plus, get recommendations for what you can do to help bring about improvements.
- Although having a bicycle-friendly infrastructure is the best way to promote cycling safety, most communities in the United States not set up to be safe for cyclists. This list of community resources and research provides tools to help you bring about positive change in your community.
- Take a walk with your child and use this checklist to decide: How walkable is your community? There are also tips for what you and your child can do as well as what the community can do to make walking safer and more pleasant for all.
- Find resources and research to help you work for changes in your community to make it safer and more walkable.
More children are hurt outside a bus than in one. Here are some safety do’s and don’ts to teach your kids:
- When you get off the bus, take 5 giant steps away from the bus, out of the danger zone.
- Stay in the driver’s sight.
- Cross in front of the bus, maintaining eye contact with the driver.
- When riding on the bus, sit quietly in your seat and listen to the driver.
- Don’t go back for anything.
- Never bend down near or under the bus to pick something up. (Tell your kids you won’t get mad if they leave something on the bus, or drop their schoolwork under the wheel.)
- Don’t wear loose clothes or drawstrings. Loose clothing, drawstrings on clothing and backpack straps can get stuck in the handrail as a child gets off the bus.
How can I find out more about school bus safety?Visit the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration’s links below for more details:
- Falls from shopping carts are one of the leading causes of head injuries to young children. Thousands of children are treated for head injuries resulting from falls from shopping carts each year .
- Use shopping carts to carry children as recommended on the cart: use the seatbelt, and don’t let the child ride in the cart basket.
- According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, infants should never ride in car seats fastened onto shopping carts, not even in built-in infant seats on shopping carts . The weight of an infant in an infant seat high in the cart makes the cart top-heavy and more likely to tip over. Instead, carry your little one in a sling, front- or back-pack carrier, or a stroller while shopping. (Choose a safe child carrier appropriate to your child’s age.)
Written and compiled by Kyla Boyse, R.N. Reviewed by faculty and staff at the University of Michigan
Updated October 2009
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