Bicycle Safety Education for Children
The purpose of ongoing bicycle education is to teach children basic bicycle handling skills, traffic signs and signals, how to ride on streets with traffic present, proper helmet use, bicycle safety checks, and bicycle maintenance. As part of a regular school curriculum, education can reach every student, but providing training outside of school settings such as through parks and recreation departments, community centers, or faith-based organizations may be more feasible in some circumstances. Community-based programs could also provide greater flexibility in tailoring a program to meet the needs of specific target groups. It is critical to emphasize the importance of pairing bicycle skills training with other interventions like built environment changes that can reduce the risk of bicycle-related injuries in children.
Young children are just learning about traffic. They have little experience with which to anticipate and interpret potential traffic hazards, and limited abilities to reason and react. Their brains are still developing, and they lack the maturity and judgment needed to negotiate traffic safely and to limit risk-taking behaviors (Schwebel et al., 2012). They are also less skilled at riding than older children or adults. Many children under 10 have difficulty accurately judging the speed and movements of motor vehicles and may require adult supervision.
Bicycle safety training and education may be incorporated into life-long, comprehensive traffic safety education, with components assembled from NHTSA or comparable programs. Much bicycle safety education material target children in grades K-8, though some are aimed at younger children. Bikeology, an on-bicycle skills curriculum specifically designed for professional physical education teachers and recreation specialists, is suited for teaching middle to high school students of varying abilities and with special needs (American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 2014).
NHTSA has produced publications on how to properly fit a bicycle helmet (n.d.), rules of the road, presentations to generate peer to peer discussion on safe walking and bicycling, and games to educate children and parents on bicycle safety. This information is available on NHTSA’s Bicycle and Traffic Safety Marketing pages. Bicycle Safer Journey is an updated series of web-based training videos and discussion guides targeted for bicyclists 5 to 9, 10 to 14, and 15 to 18 years old. The material is available on the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center website.
The use of school-based programs, which is at the discretion of local school districts, is unknown, but some localities are introducing bicycling as a physical activity class taught by experienced teachers. In-school education and training are frequent parts of local SRTS programs. In addition to programs offered by teachers and school personnel, local bicycling coalitions sometimes offer age-appropriate bicycle training within a school setting.
Both short lecture-based programs and more extensive programs with on-bicycle training can increase children’s knowledge of laws and safe behaviors (Hatfield et al., 2019; Hooshmand et al., 2014; Lachapelle et al., 2013; Richmond et al., 2014; Thomas et al., 2005), bicycling confidence (van Lierop et al., 2016), or observed behaviors in an educational context (Ducheyne et al., 2013) but whether this translates into adoption of the safe behaviors or a reduction in crashes is less certain. Practitioners should keep in mind the developmental limitations in children, and the distinction between knowledge gain and behavior change. If well-implemented, bicycling education programs have the potential to increase participation in bicycling, improve individual bicycling confidence, and improve overall motor skills. Programs can also emphasize the importance of protective safety equipment and good bicycle maintenance practices (Ellis, 2014; Hatfield et al., 2019; Hooshmand et al., 2014; Lachapelle et al., 2013; Mandic et al., 2018; Thomas et al., 2005; van Lierop et al., 2016)
A review of evaluations of 13 educational programs (without legislation enactment) among children and youth found that educational programs were effective at increasing observed helmet use. Most programs also offered discounted or free helmet distribution. Meta-analyses found the odds of observed helmet wearing to be more than 2 times higher than at baseline or among the non-intervention group, but results were quite varied across the different studies (Royal et al., 2007). The authors were unable to tease apart differences in programs that might contribute to different outcomes other than whether they were community-based or school-based, and whether or not they offered free or reduced-priced helmets. Community educational programs that provided free helmets were reported to be more effective than programs set in schools or that provided only an opportunity to purchase a discounted helmet, although the latter types also increased use. School-based programs also tended to obtain best results among the younger participants. Three of the studies found helmet use benefits persisting at 9- to 12-month follow-up, although evidence is still lacking regarding longer-term (1 year or more). Based on the evidence of effectiveness of helmets at preventing head-injuries when worn, injury-reduction benefits would be expected from programs that increase proper use of helmets. Crash reduction benefits of educational programs have not been conclusively demonstrated (Richmond et al., 2014). Evidence is lacking as to whether programs might have any unintended effects such as reducing amounts of riding or conferring overconfidence in one’s riding skills.
Coalitions may be paid by their associated State to provide training, or otherwise use SRTS funds if money is still available, or if SRTS funding at the State is being maintained. Teachers can provide education using NHTSA’s free material, but training, administration, and supervision of a comprehensive program could increase costs somewhat.
Time to Implement:
Short, for existing material; medium, to develop and disseminate a training curriculum with material.
- Sample curricula: Some examples of curricula are the Bicycle Transportation Alliance in Portland, and the Hawaii Bicycling League (Thomas et al., 2005). The Let’s Go NC! – Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Curriculum, which was based on the NHTSA child pedestrian curriculum, provides educational material for training safe road use skills in children. The Kids on Bikes program offers a collection of community-based resources in many localities including bike libraries, summer bike camps, and safe biking education.