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Bike Sense – Cycling Safety

With so many digital games and organized activities, it’s a challenge to get kids to bike. The statistics show that children bike less than a generation ago. Parents today often need to coax children. But the effort is well worth it.

Having fun – “Exercise and fresh air are important,” says Brent Hagel, Ph.D., a senior researcher at the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute and recipient of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation Professorship in Child Health and Wellness at the University of Calgary.

“With a little knowledge and some planning, family outings on a bike can be one of the best ways to get family time together.”

Biking accidents – Today’s kids know more about riding safety than ever before. Biking programs are part of school and community activities. And that means kids today know they should strap on a helmet. Yet every year, there are still emergency visits to hospitals.

At the Alberta Children’s Hospital alone, more than 500 kids are seen each year in emergency for a bicycling injury. They suffer broken bones, lesions and head injuries. Doctors will tell you, bones can be fixed, but head injuries can last a lifetime.

A helmet may save a life – “Wearing a helmet is extremely important; it could save your child’s life,” says Hagel. As a researcher, he’s been involved in extensive studies on helmet use and helmet legislation for the past 10 years. His research and knowledge is used at the Canadian Paediatric Society to advise on policy.

“Our most recent study shows hospitalizations for severe head injury declined dramatically in Alberta for those under age 18 after the law making helmets mandatory. Serious head trauma declined 30 per cent in the years following the 2002 Alberta legislation.” The research is published in Accident Analysis & Prevention.

Hagel maintains that parents can set a good example for their children by always wearing a bike helmet.

Driver awareness – But with all the precautions, the best way to reduce injuries is by driver awareness. Hagel says that drivers can cut down the risk of hitting a child cyclist by driving safely under the speed limit and by avoiding distractions.

“We’re finding that the use of hand-held devices create a dangerous situation on roads. Driving a motor vehicle is a privilege and it is the driver’s responsibility to watch out for children,” he says.

Bike riding is not just a time for the family to explore the neighborhood together. It’s an opportunity to celebrate your child’s physical abilities. Get out and bike, do it safely and there’s nothing quite like it.

The Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation supports the research efforts of Brent Hagel and his team. His work and those of other leading researchers at the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute benefit from the generous donations of the community. These donations, by people who care deeply about the welfare of children, enable the Institute to lay the foundations for lifelong health.

Here are Hagel’s six safety tips:

1. Always wear a helmet. Cyclists with a helmet reduce the risk of head injury by 70 per cent.

2. Wear a certified helmet (Canadian Standards Association - CSA, American Society for Testing and Materials - ASTM, Consumer Product Safety Commission - CPSC); and make sure the helmet fits with two finger widths above the eyebrow as the rule and straps should be snug.

3. Children under 10 should not ride on the road. They do not have the ability to handle traffic.

4. Choose bike paths. Segregation from traffic reduces risks.

5. Cross at controlled traffic intersections where cars are forced to stop. In turn, kids should always dismount their bikes and look both ways before crossing.

6. Never allow a child to ride at night.

The Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute is a partner of the University of Calgary, Alberta Health Services and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation. Its 200 researchers search for answers to understand and treat childhood disease. Find them at

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