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Children should learn rules of the road at a young age

The Coloradoan: Children should learn rules of the road at a young age

RICK PRICE, PH.D., • RICK@EXPERIENCEPLUS.COM. • MARCH 1, 2010

Children ages 5 to 10 should learn the rules of the road as pedestrians before they begin bicycling. Teach them how to walk through parking lots, crosswalks, driveways and sidewalks. The rules they learn walking such as look left, look right, look left again, stop at the edge and others will serve them well when they begin bicycling.

Smaller children should not ride alone on the street but could ride in your cul-de-sac. They don't have the cognitive ability to judge distance and speed. Encourage them to ride behind you until they learn the concepts of keeping right, watching for hazards and making way for those passing.

While they ride behind you, they imprint on you as goslings do their parents. So follow the rules of the road: signal, keep to the right, use two hands and wear a helmet. How many parents do you see without a helmet? They are teaching their kids that it's OK for adults to not wear a helmet.

By the time children are 10, they are ready to ride on neighborhood streets with parked cars and light traffic. They've developed their peripheral vision and have the judgment necessary to be allowed freedom to discover the world. But now they need real instruction in bike handling, hazard avoidance and understanding bicycles are vehicles and must follow the rules of the road.

Those of us concerned about bicycle policies in the community advocate that the education of a cyclist should be focused on fourth- and fifth-graders. We should set a goal of training every one of them in PE classes over a 10-week period. If they can get pedestrian rules of the road earlier and apply them in fourth grade, we'd have a much safer bicycle community. Continue that teaching on the bike into middle school and we'd also have safer young drivers of motor vehicles.

About that bicycle.

Go out to the garage right now and do an ABC quick check: air in the tires; brakes; and crank, chain and cassette if it has more than one gear. If the quick check shows the bike is ready, great. We do this regularly in elementary school bike parking lots and find that 60 percent of the bikes need air and a brake adjustment.

This last one is serious. Your child needs to learn how to ride their bike, but they also need to learn how to stop it effectively. Most brakes on kids' bikes won't stop the bike because they are not properly adjusted. If the bike didn't pass the ABC test and you can't fix the brakes, take it to the bike shop today.

If you are buying a child's first bike, go to the bike shop, not a department store, and get professional help with proper sizing.

Rick Price, Ph.D., is a League of American Bicyclist cycling instructor who lives and pedals in Fort Collins, where he is the safe cycling coordinator for the Bike Co-op. His column runs the first Monday of the month. If your school or group would like a safe cycling presentation, send e-mail to rick@experienceplus.com.