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Aug 6, 2018
Growing Up in Santa Cruz
By Karen Kefauver

Last month, hundreds of parents hopped on their bikes and pedaled with their kids to Bike to Work/School Day events countywide to enjoy a free breakfast for cyclists. As the kids gobbled strawberries, devoured bagels and stocked up on energy bars, I asked clusters of parents what their biggest concerns about their kids riding bikes.

Not surprisingly, safety topped the list. And it should — school-age children are indeed at high risk for injuries as they learn to balance and maneuver their bikes on streets and sidewalks.

For the under-18 set — who are generally wearing helmets because they are required by law — forearm injuries are the most common, according to emergency medicine physician Dr. Deven Merchant at Sutter Davis Hospital.

When it comes this grim topic, the good news is that children are unlikely to suffer a fatal accident, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of the most severe injuries, for both children and adults, are offset or avoided by wearing the proper headgear.

“Properly fitted bicycle helmets are the single most important safety device for cyclists of all ages and are estimated to reduce head injury risk by as much as 85 percent,” says John Dunn, MD, a Kaiser Permanente Washington pediatrician. “Make it a rule that no one in your family cycles without a helmet, no matter how short the ride.”

With summer right around the corner, parents and kids are gearing up for their bicycle seat or two and three-wheeled adventures. There’s nothing quite like that thrilling taste of freedom on a bike. Remember your first bike?

Here’s a handy helmet safety checklist for your safe cycling year-round.No brainer to wear helmet

1. Put a lid on it! California law requires kids under age 18 to wear a helmet when riding a bike on a street, bikeway or public bicycle path or trail. This includes children who are sitting in restraining seats or are being towed in a trailer behind the bicycle. No exceptions! The helmet must be labeled by one of three accredited safety organizations.

2. Buy a new helmet, not second-hand or a hand-me-down. It’s worth every penny to protect your child’s brain. There are affordable, safety-tested, and attractive. According to Consumer Reports, cheaper helmets under $20 can be just as effective as pricier ones ($100+). Visit local bike shops and ask for help with helmet selection.

3. The bike helmet must fit properly in order to ensure protection. Even if your kiddo complains, the strap must be firmly under the chin and the helmet should be snug on the head. When the helmet is seated correctly, it should be level and you shouldn’t be able to easily push it back to expose the forehead, forward or side-to-side. Teach your child how to put it on correctly. The helmet straps must always be buckled, but not too tightly.

4. Replace your kids’ and your own helmet at least every five years because the insulation wears out even without a crash or other damage. Of course, if the helmet is dented, cracked or even dropped hard, get a new one immediately. Helmets lose their capacity to absorb a shock. Don’t wear the bike helmet for any other sport or while on the playground.

5. Let your children pick out their helmets and they’ll be more excited to wear them for every ride. Make it a fun experience. Look for one in bright colors for good visibility that’s also lightweight and well ventilated.

Parents, when you are with your children, wear a helmet, always. Model for them how important it is to wear a bike helmet. Biking with your kids sans helmet sends the message that they can stop wearing one when they are grown up and that helmets are just a pesky part of being a kid. Many accidents happen in driveways, on sidewalks and on bike paths, not just on streets. Sometimes parents mistakenly believe that if they’re on cruiser bikes, or just in the neighborhood that they can skip a helmet. In fact, the majority of bike crashes for both kids and adults happen close to home. Parents, wear your helmet at all times to help children develop the helmet habit.

Not only is riding a bike is a rite of passage, representing fun, freedom fresh air, it’s a healthy pastime that kids and families can enjoy together.

Two upcoming local events include opportunities for kids to learn and practice bicycle safety skills with experts

June 3, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Open Streets Watsonville. Street Smarts, a program of Ecology Action, will host a bicycle obstacle course. Facebook.com/OpenStreetsSantaCruzCounty

June 9, 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. Family Fun Festival. Watsonville City Plaza, 358 Main Street, Watsonville. Bike obstacle courses, helmet fittings, and on-bike training. ecoactbike.org

Karen Kefauver is a freelance journalist and social media coach based in Santa Cruz since 1993. She’s an avid mountain biker and bicycle commuter. www.karenkefauver.com

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