Northside Health Library

Bicycle safety

Riding Safely

While many cities and states have created bike lanes and laws that protect bicycle riders, bicycle riders are still at risk of being hit by a motorist.

Therefore, you still need to ride carefully, obey the laws, watch for other vehicles, and be prepared to stop and take evasive action.

Be aware of the traffic around you. Watch out for opening car doors, potholes, and children who may run in front of you. DO NOT WEAR HEADPHONES OR TALK ON YOUR CELL PHONE WHEN RIDING A BICYCLE.

Stop at stop signs, check for traffic before turning, use correct hand or arm signals, and never ride out into a street without stopping first.

  • Ride on the same side of the road as the cars.
  • Be predictable and ride defensively. Ride where drivers of cars can see you. Bicycles are frequently hit by cars because the driver did not even know the bike was there. Many accidents have been avoided because the biker was watching out for cars.
  • Wear brightly colored clothing so that motorists can easily see you.

Bike Helmets

The brain is fragile and easily injured. Even a simple fall can cause brain damage that may leave you with lifelong problems.

Everyone should wear helmets; they are not just for kids. Wear your helmet correctly:

  • Straps should be snug underneath your chin so the helmet cannot be twisted around your head. A helmet that the flies off will not protect you or your child.
  • The helmet should cover your forehead and point straight ahead.
  • Do not wear hats underneath your helmet.

Your local sporting goods store, sports facility, or bike shop will be able to help make certain your helmet fits properly. You can also contact the American League of Bicyclists.

Throwing bicycle helmets can damage them around. If this happens, they will not protect you as well. Do not assume that older helmets, passed down from others, still offer protection.

Nighttime Visibility

Only experienced bicyclists should ride at night. Having the right equipment is essential.

The following equipment will keep you safer (in some states and cities, it is required):

  • A front lamp that emits a white light that can be seen from a distance of around 300 feet.
  • A red reflector that can be seen from the rear at a distance of about 500 feet.
  • Reflectors located on each pedal or on the shoes or ankles of the bicyclist that can be seen from around 200 feet.
  • Reflective clothing, tape, or patches

Try to stay on roads that are familiar and brightly lit.

Riding with Infants

Placing infants in bike seats makes the bike more difficult to manage and harder to stop. Following certain rules increases safety, but accidents that occur at any speed may cause harm to a young child.

Following some simple rules can add to the safety of you and your child:

  • Ride on bike paths, sidewalks, and quiet streets without much traffic.
  • Do not carry infants younger than 12 months on a bike.
  • Older children should not carry infants on a bike.

To be able to ride in a rear mounted bike seat or child trailer, a child must be able to sit without support while wearing a lightweight helmet.

Remounted seats must be securely attached, have spoke guards, and have a high back. A shoulder harness and a lap belt are also needed.

Other Safety Tips for Children

Young children should use bikes with coaster brakes -- the kind that brake when you pedal backwards. With hand brakes, a child's hands should be large enough and strong enough to use the levers.

Make sure bikes are the right size, rather than a bicycle "your child can grow into." A child should be able to straddle a bike with both feet on the ground. Children cannot handle oversize bikes and are at more risk for falling and other accidents.

Even when riding on sidewalks, children need to learn to watch for cars pulling out from driveways and alleys. Also, watch out for wet leaves, gravel, and curves.

Be careful to keep loose pants legs, straps, or shoelaces from getting caught in the spokes of the wheel or bicycle chain. Never ride barefoot, and avoid sandals or flip-flops.


Safety and prevention Bicycle safety: Myths and facts. healthychildren website, American Academy of Pediatrics.

Heads up. Facts for physicians about mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI). US Department of Health and Human Services. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CS 109152.CS109152

Safety tips for bicyclists and motorists. California Department of Motor Vehicles. Reviewed 6/2011. Accessed September 1, 2011

Review Date: 9/26/2011
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. 09/20/11Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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