Are you toying with the idea of making bikes part of your family's daily routine? Maybe you're thinking of riding them to school together for the first time? Taking something that has previously only been used for play and relying on it as a mode of transport can be a major challenge for you and your child. And so we've had a look at the potential dangers associated with riding a bike on the road to give you an idea of why you need to take extra care to make sure your child is safe.
Identifying and avoiding potential dangers
If you're a keen cyclist yourself, you'll have no doubt identified a risk or two. And you'll be in a position to plan your route to make it as safe and stress-free as possible. But now your child needs to learn how to spot hazards and know what to do when they come across them. It is absolutely essential that you ensure that your child is used to the road and prepared in case they come across potential dangers:
- Before crossing at a junction, you must always be certain that it is safe to do so. Start by slowing down to a stop. Assess the flow of traffic moving on the road you need to cross by looking left and right. One of the biggest risks at junctions is vehicles turning left (in countries using left-hand traffic) or right (right-hand traffic), as you cannot be sure that the driver will see you. Watch out for signs telling you that a driver intends to turn left or right, such as flashing indicators and a reduction in speed. Try to make eye contact with the driver if possible and give priority to other vehicles on the road if you are ever in any doubt.
- Poor visibility is often an issue with exits and entrances, especially where children are concerned owing to their size. Bear this in mind and slow down as you approach an exit or entrance until you are sure you have a good view. If the coast is clear, you can carry on pedalling.
- Distance from doors: Make sure that you always maintain a distance of at least 1.2 metres from parked cars. This avoids the risk of you being hit if a car door is suddenly opened.
- You should also stay around a metre away from the kerb to ensure that your pedals don't come into contact with the edge.
- Don't forget that larger vehicles like buses and lorries have a bigger blind spot than smaller vehicles. You can stay on the safe side by never getting too close to any vehicles. When you are at a junction or a set of traffic lights, you should never stop alongside a vehicle on your right or directly in front of a vehicle because the driver might not have a clear view of those areas. Try to remember that if you can't look into the driver's eyes, they won't be able to see you either. It is safest for you to stop behind a vehicle, leaving a big enough gap between it and your bike.
- Train tracks should be crossed with care and at an angle of 45–90 degrees.
Considering traffic from a child's point of view
Riding a bike on the road requires a few key skills – beyond safe handling of the bike – that kids develop over time as they gain more experience. Never overestimate your child and remember that they will view the world around them very differently to you depending on their age and stage of development...
- It goes without saying that your child won't have such a clear view in many situations since they are smaller and seated in a lower position. With this in mind, you should assess your chosen route from your child's perspective, so you can identify any risks they may face.
- Eyes and ears: Children can't judge distance and speed properly until they are nine years old. And even then their field of vision is restricted until they hit the age of twelve. So you can assume that your child will see a big car as being nearer than a small one and they won't be able to see a vehicle approaching at the side as well as you can. What's more, children can't distinguish between sounds or identify potential dangers until they are at least seven years old. Before that point, your child will notice a loud car faster than a quiet one.
- Attention and concentration: Even if your six-year-old child has mastered paying full attention to something, they are still easily distracted at that age. A dog walking past, for example, may cause them to lose their focus. By the time they are eight years old, your child will be able to concentrate on one thing for longer, allowing them to focus on biking all the way to school with you, for example.
- Logical thinking: Until they reach the age of around seven, your child has an egocentric view of the world. This means that if they see a car, they assume that the driver must be able to see them.
- Reaction time: A five-year-old's reaction time is about double that of an adult's. In fact, it's not until they hit puberty that their reaction time will start to catch up with yours.
- Awareness of danger: Your child won't be in a position to make rational decisions just yet. Basically, they'd pick the shorter route over the safer one. From the age of around five, they'll start to develop a general sense of danger, but it'll be a good few years before they really start to anticipate potential risks. And even then it'll take a while for them to be able to actually dodge risky situations and react to them appropriately.
Bear in mind that until all your child's skills have fully developed, they'll be relying on you to stay vigilant and pay close attention. Learning by doing is the way forward! Make sure your kids get plenty of practice and give them chance to really experience cycling on the road. That's the only way for them to keep on improving and turn the necessary skills into habits.