A new report from the University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center examines for the first time how bicycle safety is being taught in the U.S. in a climate where there are no gold standards for bicycle education programs.
The report creates an inventory of child bicycle education curricula so that educators can look for best practices and age-appropriate lessons to teach children bicycle safety.
Dr. Cara Hamann, University of Iowa associate in epidemiology and lead author of the report, studied 96 youth bicycle education programs across the country through web and database surveys and an online survey. Dr. Hamann said children often receive very little or inconsistent instruction from parents and teachers about bicycle safety.
“For example, some school-based programs instruct children to only ride on sidewalks or bicycle paths, while others teach children to ride in the road, without any consideration for age appropriateness,” Dr. Hamann said.
Dr. Hamann’s study found that the majority of bicycle education programs (59 percent) are not age-specific despite the fact that children of different ages have varied levels of things like coordination, balance and endurance. She said all school-aged children have slower reaction times, slower problem-solving abilities and slower response to emergency situations than adults.
“For example, kids ages 5 – 9 should ride on a sidewalk or multi-use path and only ride in the street with an adult or capable child,” Dr. Hamann said. “Around age 9, children have the developmental capacity to master the dual tasks of bicycle handling and traffic safety skills and are typically ready to transition to riding in the roadway.”
Dr. Hamann added, “For older children and adults, riding in the road is generally preferred over sidewalks to reduce conflicts with pedestrians and because motorists tend to be more diligent in scanning the roadway for hazards than sidewalks.”
Youth bicycling in the U.S. has been slowly increasing in recent years due in part to the Safe Routes to School movement which encourages bicycling for the physical and environmental benefits it brings.
Still, each year among children 10 years or younger, there are over 270,000 emergency department visits, 8,000 hospitalizations, and 100 deaths in the country. Bicycling is also the most common cause of sport-related traumatic brain injury.
More information about this project and the University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center