1.3 Bicycle Safety Education for Children
Overall Effectiveness Concerns: Previous studies examining the effectiveness of this countermeasure found that bicycle safety education increases children’s knowledge of laws and safe behaviors (Hooshmand et al., 2014; Lachapelle et al., 2013; Thomas et al., 2005), but whether this translates into adoption of the safe behaviors is less certain (Richmond et al., 2014). The balance of evidence regarding countermeasure effectiveness remains inconclusive.
The purpose of bicycle education is to teach children basic bicycle handling skills, traffic laws, 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 to meet the needs of specific target groups.
Young children are just learning about traffic. They have little experience anticipating and interpreting 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. 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 vehicles, and may require adult supervision. Supervision is also recommended until children are able to ride in a straight line, swerve to avoid hazards in the roadway, comfortably start and stop their bicycles, and maintain balance at slow speeds.
Readers should note that safe bicycling principles can be counterintuitive, and safety skills taught to pedestrians (such as walking facing traffic) do not necessarily hold true for bicyclists. However, some actions are common to both, such as looking left-right-left for traffic, and going only when clear. Making these connections is particularly helpful when correlating walking and bicycling as precursors or stepping stones to safe driving (with older pre-driving youth). Further, bicycle safety skills for children may differ from safety skills needed by adults riding in different environments and at different speeds. For example, bicycle education programs may teach young children to ride their bikes slowly on the sidewalk or adjacent paths, and as far away from the roadway as possible. However, adult cyclists may need to be trained where to position themselves in the travel lane, riding in the same direction with traffic, and further from the curb, depending on the facility type. For more on adult bicyclist education, see Section 2.2. One common theme in bicycle education for both children and adults is the need to scan for traffic and potential hazards, ride predictably, and use correct hand signals to indicate changes in speed or direction.
Whether school or community-based, bicycle education should include, at a minimum, a demonstration and handout on how to properly fit a bicycle helmet and an emphasis on everyone, regardless of age, wearing a helmet for every ride. As noted above, the curriculum should also include information on how parents and children should decide what locations are safe places to ride, and how children can be predictable and visible to drivers. In addition, bicycle safety training should be reinforced (potentially by caregivers), with opportunities to practice new skills in appropriate settings (Ellis, 2014). Twisk et al. (2013) found that it may be very difficult to improve behaviors in real-traffic situations using educational programs that occur in a controlled school setting, even using models for the traffic situations, and even if recognition of risks (knowledge) appears to be improved.
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 (AAHPERD, 2018). This curriculum is available at www.shapeamerica.org/publications/resources/teachingtools/qualitype/bicycle_curriculum.aspx.
NHTSA has produced publications on how to properly fit a bicycle helmet, 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 (www.pedbikeinfo.org/bicyclesaferjourney/).
Use: 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; however, is a frequent part of local SRTS programs. In addition to programs offered by teachers and school personnel, local bicycling coalitions sometimes offer age-appropriate bicycle training in a school setting. Examples 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 in North Carolina provides educational material for training safe road use skills in children (www.ncdot.gov/initiatives-policies/safety/lets-go-nc/Pages/default.aspx). The prevalence of community-based programs is also unknown, but there are programs active in some States such as California, New York, New Jersey, and Virginia. 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 (https://kidsonbikes.net/).
Effectiveness: Both short lecture-based programs and more extensive programs with on-bicycle training can increase children’s knowledge of laws and safe behaviors (Ellis, 2014; Hooshmand et al., 2014; Lachapelle et al., 2013; van Lierop et al., 2016; Mandic et al., 2018; Thomas et al., 2005), bicycling confidence (van Lierop et al., 2016), or observed behaviors in an educational context (Ducheyne et al., 2013, 2014), but whether these translate into adoption of the safe behaviors is less certain (Hatfield et al., 2017; Richmond et al., 2014). One evaluation of a pilot program in the French-speaking parts of Canada, the Certificat Cycliste Averti (CCA; English translation: Certified Aware Cyclist), showed the program was successful in increasing children’s knowledge of bicycling safety and bicycle-specific street signs (van Lierop et al., 2016). The CCA program consists of theoretical off-bicycle lessons on traffic safety, practical on-bicycle training in a safe environment, on-road urban bicycling training, and individual, on-road cycling exam. Additionally, there was some evidence that parents’ own cycling habits and perceptions of their child’s cycling safety had been positively changed through child participation in the CCA program. A 2005 study for NHTSA described four school-based, on-bicycle training programs that each achieved sustained knowledge gains, and higher average knowledge compared to students who had never had a training course (Thomas et al., 2005). Self-reports from students and parents also suggested that safe riding behaviors and enjoyment of riding improved, more so in the courses taught on road than those taught in a closed course (on the school grounds). A European study examined the effectiveness of a classroom-based training course that used videos to teach hazard detection to young bicyclists 9 and 10 years old (Zeuwts et al., 2017). In a video-based evaluation study, children who received the training detected more hazards and reacted faster to them than a control group that did not receive any training.
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 also lacking as to whether programs might have any unintended effects such as reducing amounts of riding or conferring overconfidence in one’s riding skills.
Costs: 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. Activities formerly eligible under Federal SRTS funding are now eligible under the TAP program outlined in MAP-21, but funding priorities are established by each State. State contacts may be located on the PBIC website (pedbikeinfo.org/data/state.cfm) or search individual States’ DOT websites for information about TAP and SRTS funding. 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.