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Prepare youth for safe bicycle rides
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Bicycles are such popular items on wish lists and under Christmas trees that it's easy to forget that these can be dangerous gifts.
Linda Patterson, health education specialist at Mississippi State University's Extension Service, urged parents to make sure their children have the equipment and training necessary to make bike riding a safe experience.
"A bicycle is not a toy. It's a vehicle," Patterson said. "Every year about 1,200 bicyclists are killed, and more than a half million others are injured in bicycle-related accidents."
Two of the biggest things riders can do to ensure their safety is wear a helmet and observe the rules of the road. Mississippi law does not require bicyclists to wear helmets, but many states do, and health and safety professionals encourage their use.
"When you get your child a bicycle, buy them a correctly-fitting, approved bike helmet and insist your child wear it every time they ride," Patterson said. "Parents who are bike riders should set a good example for their kids and buy and wear one for themselves."
Head injuries account for 75 percent of bicycle-related deaths, and most bicycle-related emergency room visits and hospital admissions. Most bike injuries don't involved collisions with motor vehicles, and numerous studies show helmets are effective at preventing many injuries.
"Helmets are designed to protect the brain and skull during an impact," Patterson said. "Helmets are made of crushable polystyrene foam and are designed to provide the greatest possible protection to riders."
Replace any helmet that has been involved in an accident, even a small fall, if it appears the foam has been crushed. While style can be important to the child, parents should ensure that the helmet fits properly and is certified as safe. Helmets should have the seal of either the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the American Society for Testing and Materials or the more stringent and less common Snell B-95 or N-94 ratings.
Just as important as wearing a helmet is being a safe rider.
"Don't allow young children to ride bikes in the street alone, and all children should be taught to look both ways before entering the road," Patterson said. "Bicyclists on the road must obey all the traffic laws that apply to automobiles."
When considering buying a bike as a gift, be sure to match the style and size of the bike with the rider's age and ability. Be sure the child can reach the pedals and ground safely, knows and will follow the rules of the road, and wears an approved, well-fitted bicycle helmet.