On the Go: Safety Tips for Bicycling

Taking a tumble from your bike can cause serious injury, but following a few simple safety precautions can help keep riders on the road and out of the emergency room.

During the summer months many people take their bikes onto the road, paths, and sidewalks to enjoy the warm weather, but as the rate of bicycling accidents grows riders need to place more importance on safety precautions. According to the U.S. Product Safety Commission’s 2008 data (the last year available) biking and related activities resulted in 516,261 injuries that required medical care from a doctor or hospital. This makes biking the single most injury prone summer activity, but there are ways to avoid sustaining an injury.

Bicycling injuries include abrasions and road rash, concussions, fractures, muscle strains and sprains, tendonitis, or even more serious internal injuries caused by collisions. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 716 people died on U.S. roads in 2008 in bicycle accidents. The single most effective way to avoid the serious injuries that can occur by falling of a bike or colliding with a vehicle or other object is to avoid head trauma by wearing a helmet.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends that helmets sit on the top of the head in a level position. Helmets should not move forward, backward, or side-to-side. Parents should also make sure that their children have a properly fitted helmet, and that the straps are always buckled. Helmets should be replaced after a crash, and should also be replaced regularly as children grow and develop. Parents can also serve as good role models for their children by wearing helmets themselves.

“Having a properly fitted helmet that is specific to bicycle use is crucial,” Dr. Larry McFarlane, medical director at Security Health Plan of Wisconsin, and a pediatrician for over thirty years, said in a press release. “Parents need to insist that children use it. If children are reluctant to wear a helmet, try letting them choose their own, but helmets need to be worn at all times while riding.”

In addition to wearing a helmet, McFarlane also recommends that people choose a bike, either to purchase or to rent, that is the right size for their body. When standing over a bike, riders should be one-two inches above the top bar on the bike’s mainframe. For a road or mountain bike, riders should stand three-four inches above the top bar.

Cell phones and other electronic devices like ipods are also a safety hazard. “The problems caused by cell phone use and other electronic devices while driving vehicles have been well-documented, but there has been an increased use of these devices with bicyclists as well,” says McFarlane. “They are not only dangerous distractions, but they keep bicyclists from hearing the traffic around them and emergency sirens.”

The AAOS also recommends that riders check their bike before heading out to ensure that the tires are inflated properly and the brakes are functioning. Riders should try to avoid riding at night because it is harder to see where you are going and for drivers to see you. If you have to ride at night, wear bright clothing and make sure that reflectors are attached to the front and back of your bicycle. Always ride in the same direction as traffic, and follow all traffic laws. The AAOS cautions against riding on uneven or slippery surfaces, and says that riders who are unsure of themselves should take a riding skills course.

Overall, summer is a great time to get outdoors and enjoy the health benefits of exercising by riding a bike. Biking provides a cardio workout and can help strengthen your muscles. However, it is still important to be prepared and informed to avoid sustaining a serious, or even life threatening, injury.
-Erin Podolak


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