One of the most important ways to emphasize road safety to your kids is by modeling the road rules yourself. As we get older and more experienced, we often become so confident in our ability to be safe that we sometimes tend to cut corners, safety-wise. You might dash across the street after the walk signal has begun to flash because you think you can make it, or you might glance at your phone while driving because you’ve done it before, and everything turned out fine. But our kids are always watching. It’s important to set a good example by following the rules you expect your kids to adhere to.
So always wear your bike helmet, even if you’re just riding on a local path at the park. Look both ways before crossing the street, and always obey traffic signals. When you’re crossing the street, put away your phone and try to make eye contact with drivers. When you’re the driver, be on the lookout for pedestrians or cyclists, especially in residential neighborhoods, and always give them the right of way. Don’t rush to try and beat the changing red light. Children who see adults practicing road safety are much more likely to build and maintain good, safe habits as their independence grows.
Pedestrian Road Rules
The first traffic safety rule most parents teach them is one of the most important – always look both ways before crossing the street. You can even take this further by teaching them to look left, right, and left again before crossing. If they’re crossing at a crosswalk or a stoplight, the added step of making eye contact with drivers to be sure that they see you is a good idea as well. You should always walk on sidewalks or designated pathways, as long as they are available. If there are no sidewalks, pedestrians should walk facing traffic as far to the side of the road as possible.
Parked cars, whether in a parking lot or on the side of the road, are another issue. Children should be taught never to run out into the street or cross between parked cars, making it very hard to see them. In parking lots, teach young children to hold hands from a very young age. If you have your hands full, have children hold on to the strap of your bag or a piece of clothing, such as a belt loop, to keep them close.
With older kids beginning to venture away from home on their own, they must learn to stay alert when traveling. Older kids and teens might be tempted to engage with phones or other devices while they are walking, but this can be dangerous. Teach kids to remove their headphones or reduce the music volume before crossing the street.
Using our hearing and sight to observe is essential – if a car is approaching at high speed as you’re about to cross the street, you’re much more likely to hear it before you see it. Putting phones or other devices away while crossing the road is important. If kids need to make a call or send a text, teach them to stop walking and step to the side when using their phones.
How much independence kids have will depend on a few factors, such as how responsible a child has shown themselves to be and how busy the area is. If you’re considering giving your child more freedom to roam independently, you might consider giving them a smartwatch or adding a GPS tracker to their backpack if you don’t think they’re ready yet for a phone. These devices can help you keep in touch while giving kids some freedom.
Cycling Road Rules
It doesn’t matter if your child is a toddler or a teenager; wearing a helmet is the number one safety rule to enforce with kids regarding bikes. One study found that over nine years in the United States, 2.2 million children were hospitalized due to bike accidents – an average of 600 cases every day. Traumatic brain injuries were involved in 11% of cases, and researchers found that nearly half of the TBIs occurred in the 10-14 age group.
Ten to fourteen is when kids begin to acquire more independence and are more likely to be riding bikes with a group of their peers instead of under parental supervision, so kids must understand the importance of a helmet. If you start early with toddlers and make it an expectation from the start that you don’t get on your bike without a helmet, kids are more likely to follow through as they grow up. Helmets can reduce the risk of injury by up to 90%.
Kids are more likely to wear a helmet if it’s comfortable, so make sure you buy one that fits correctly. The right helmet should sit about an inch above their eyebrows, so you can see the edge of the helmet as they look up. Many helmets, especially for toddlers and young kids, are adjustable, so you can be sure to get the perfect fit. Many cool designs are available these days, from favorite cartoon characters to helmets that look like you’ve got a Mohawk. Older kids might like to choose a solid color skateboard-style helmet and personalize it with stickers.
On a bike, it’s important to make yourself visible to cars. Most bikes have reflectors in the wheels, but you can purchase additional ones that are especially useful if you or your kids plan to be out late. Wearing bright colors or attaching reflectors to a jacket or helmet can be helpful, too.
Where should you ride your bike? This can get confusing depending on where you live and how old you are. The rules can differ from state to state and city to city. For example, in Dayton, Ohio, it is legal for children under fifteen to ride bikes on the sidewalk, but if you go to Columbus, Ohio, the age limit drops to ten. Generally speaking, if your child is young enough that they cannot ride a bike unsupervised, it’s probably fine to ride a bike on the sidewalk. For older kids and teens, you will want to check the local bylaws for your city and find out what is allowed.
If bike lanes are unavailable in your town, teens and older kids cycling on the street should learn to follow traffic rules. Intersections, stoplights, and being aware of parked cars suddenly opening doors into traffic are all risks you should review with your teen. If your teen plans to cycle on streets alongside vehicles, make sure they know the proper signals, such as holding out a left arm to signal a left turn and a right arm to signal a right turn.
Hand Signals to Know:
There are three main hand signals that your child should know. Left turn, right turn, and stop. With a left turn, you extend your left arm to your left. With the right turn signal, there are two ways you can signal. You can extend your left arm to your left and bend it, so your hand is pointing to the sky. Or you can extend your right arm to your right. With a stop signal, you extend your left arm to your left and bend it, so your hand is pointing towards the road.
Scooter Road Rules
Just like riding a bike, helmets must also be worn when riding a scooter. There are two main types of scooters: foot-powered kick scooters and battery-powered electric scooters, and helmets are a must for both of them. If your scooter rider is a beginner, consider pads for the wrists, elbows, and knees. Wrist fractures are a common injury since a child will instinctively put their hands out to catch themselves if they fall. Falls are the most common cause of injury when riding scooters, but collisions with cars and pedestrians are also a concern.
As scooters can be very quiet, you must have a bell or horn to let both cars and pedestrians know you are coming. If you plan to ride after dark, scooters must also have a white light on the front to see where you are going and a red light and reflector on the back so those behind you will notice you.
Before your child ventures out on the streets on their scooter, make sure that they have fully mastered riding it. Practice in a safe learning area such as a driveway or empty parking lot until your child is comfortable with turns, sudden stops, starting and stopping, and avoiding obstacles.
Young scooter riders must be aware of rules such as keeping to one side except to pass, signaling to pedestrians as they approach from behind, and regulating their speed to traffic flow. If your child is riding their scooter after dark, remind them to turn on their lights and consider putting a reflective patch on their helmet or jacket, so they remain visible to drivers.
Kick scooters, especially when ridden by children, are usually permitted on sidewalks, but electric scooters ridden by older kids and teens will likely have a different set of rules to follow. In many areas, electric scooters are subject to the same rules as bicycles concerning riding on a sidewalk or the road and in bike lanes, so check your local state or municipal guidelines as these can vary widely from place to place. There may be specific rules to follow, too – for example, in many jurisdictions, to ride an electric scooter in a bike lane, riders must be 16 or over, wear a helmet, and keep their speed under a certain limit such as 15 mph.