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Teaching Basic Traffic Skills to Kids

Your direct involvement and periodic supervision is essential if your child is going to learn the necessary skills for safe biking. After your child has learned to balance and control a bicycle, begin teaching the following basic traffic skills. They can reduce the most common errors children make while riding.

Driveway rideout
Many bicycle collisions involve children who are killed or seriously injured riding out of a driveway and not seeing or yielding to oncoming traffic.

Teach your child to always walk his/her bicycle from the garage or house to the edge of the road, and to begin riding only after searching for traffic. That means looking left, right and left again. Consider painting a line across the end of your driveway to act as a reminder for your child to stop and search for traffic before entering the roadway.

Stop sign rideout
Another common cause of serious bicycle injuries among children is simply failing to stop for a stop sign in their own neighborhood. Many adults glide through stop signs, setting a poor example for children. Many people commonly think it's okay to ride through a stop sign if there are no motor vehicles approaching. Children do not possess the skills to quickly search for traffic and determine the speed of oncoming vehicles. Teach children that stopping at a stop sign is a responsibility they share with all vehicle drivers. Riding through a stop sign is a traffic violation.

Sudden left swerve
Serious injuries frequently occur when young bicyclists make a sudden left swerve across one or more lanes of traffic. The child may be responding to roadway debris or may suddenly decide to go in a different direction. Their first concern is responding to the immediate distraction. Their behavior becomes unpredictable and unsafe even on streets with low traffic volume.

Using a parking lot or quiet street, show your child how to look behind (scan to the rear) for oncoming traffic, without swerving into traffic. Teach your child to make a left turn by scanning to the rear, signalling with left arm extended straight out, moving across the lane and completing the turn after another assessment of all oncoming traffic, front and back. This is a skill that will require practice. Work with your child until you and he/she are confident and comfortable in making a left turn. If the child is unable to safely make a left turn on the roadway, tell him/her to move off the road and cross the street as a pedestrian, walking the bicycle through the crosswalk area.

Wrong way riding
Children riding against traffic are frequently involved in collisions at intersections and driveways. Bicyclists riding against traffic place themselves in an unexpected location, reducing the ability of other vehicle drivers to see them or predict their behavior. Because all traffic users are taught to look left, right and left, wrong way drivers are difficult to see and endanger themselves and other vehicle drivers. A bicyclist coming from the wrong direction will not be able to read signs, is not predictable, and is riding illegally.

Many people perceive that wrong way riding is safer. Help teach your child to ride in a predictable manner, on the right side of the road, and to obey all traffic laws. It may be helpful to draw an intersection on paper and "walk" through a search, assess and ride situation for both the driver who is in the right and a wrong-way rider. Then go to an intersection either in a car or on bikes and explain to your child the right way to ride. It will help him/her understand that wrong way riding is dangerous and illegal.

Riding at night/bad weather
Kids should not ride their bikes at night. Even if they have a good lighting system, wear light colored clothes, retroreflective stickers and a helmet, it's very dangerous. Encourage children to plan their riding time so they either arrive at their destination before dark or have money to call for a ride home.

Bad weather conditions contribute to many bike crashes, especially when the weather unexpectedly changes for the worse and your child is caught in rain or fog. Inclement weather is a hazard for both vehicle drivers and bicyclists. Braking capacity is reduced in wet weather, visibility is reduced in rain and fog, and vision is obstructed by wind and rain. If your child gets caught in bad weather, make sure they understand these hazards and have a plan for getting to their destination safely.

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Contact the Minnesota Safety Council at msc@minnesotasafetycouncil.org, or 651-291-9150/1-800-444-9150.
474 Concordia Avenue St. Paul Minnesota 55103 USA