Summer Safety – Part 2

Last week I went over some sun and water safety topics. This week I want to write about wheeled conveyances that appear in the spring and summer months. It’s great to see kids and adults out on their bicycles now that the weather has warmed up. The downside is this will undoubtedly result in more bike accidents. Some of the most difficult experiences I had during my medical training were when I took care of kids who were brain injured as a result of bike accidents.

In 2020, there were 1,260 preventable deaths from bicycle injuries in the United States. This was a 16 percent increase from the prior year and a 44 percent increase from 2010 to 2020. Cyclists being hit by cars accounts for about two-thirds of the deaths. Bike accidents accounted for 425,000 visits to emergency departments in 2020 and resulted in over $10 billion in health care costs.

While most kids own bike helmets, they often tell me they don’t wear them. Parents frequently bring up the fact that they never wore a helmet when they were kids. Most of the time the reason is because helmets did not exist when they were kids.

Helmets really do work – wearing one decreases the chance of a serious head injury by over 60 percent, brain injury by 58 percent and serious face and neck injuries by 33 percent. Wearing a helmet gives a rider a 17 percent chance of dying from a bicycle accident – a marked improvement from pre-helmet days. Deaths for persons under 20 years old have decreased almost 90 percent since 1975.

Children should be taught that they don’t ride if they don’t wear their helmets. Adults must also set good examples by purchasing and using helmets. Also teach your kids to ride with traffic (the same side of the road as the cars are traveling).

While any helmet is better than no helmet at all, take kids with you to try them on. It’s also worth the slight increase in cost to go to a bike store for a proper fit. Make sure the helmet meets Consumer Product Safety Committee standards. Also remember that accidents can occur anywhere, not just on the street.

Kids should not only be fitted for a helmet, they should also be fitted for a bike. It’s better to take children to the store to try out a bike than to surprise them with a new bike that is too big. Bikes that are too large or are purchased for the child to “grow into” can be very unsteady and lead to accidents. Don’t push your child to ride a two-wheeler until he or she is ready (usually 5 to 6 years old).

Doctors are seeing more scooter injuries in emergency departments and medical practices. Most involve either head injuries or broken arms and are almost universally the result of going too fast (i.e. down a hill). The tiny wheels on a scooter offer very little control at higher speeds. Motorized scooters are very dangerous. Often the speeds they produce far outpace the rider’s common sense (especially in males). If your child rides a scooter, the same bike safety rule applies – wear a helmet. In addition, he or she should wear wrist guards as well as elbow and knee pads. The same goes for rollerblades.

Another wheeled vehicle that has an extremely high potential to seriously injure or kill a child is an all-terrain vehicle or ATV. While they are no doubt fun, I still can’t fathom why any parent would allow their young child to ride one based on the injuries I’ve seen. If you allow your child to ride one, make sure you supervise him or her closely. Purchase a good set of personal protective gear and a full-face helmet, have them take a safety course, and severely limit the power of the machine.

Remember, the experience and common sense of children lags far behind the potential speeds these vehicles produce as well as potential hazards they may encounter. The same advice goes for dirt bikes.

Lawnmower safety is the last thing I’d like to address. Keep small children indoors when mowing since you may not see them approaching the mower. No matter how fun it seems, never let small children ride on your lap when you’re on the lawn tractor. I’ve seen more than one limb amputation from mower accidents.

Parents ask me when it’s safe for their kids to mow the lawn. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends they be at least 12 years old before allowing them to operate a push mower and 16 for a riding mower. When teaching your child to mow, get out the owner’s manual and go over all the safety equipment while making sure it’s all still functional. The mower should have a bale with a kill switch on the engine and/or blades. Adjust the height of the handle to allow the child to have good control of the mower.

If you feel uncomfortable mowing part of your yard, a hill for instance, certainly don’t allow your child to do it. Also follow general lawn mowing safety rules: wear sturdy shoes, minimize mowing backward, clear the yard of debris, don’t stick your hand in a grass chute with the engine is running, and wear hearing and eye protection.

– Dr. John Roberts is a member of the Franciscan Physician Network specializing in Family Medicine.