National research undertaken by the Cycle Smart Foundation (CSF) in 2017 suggests that children as young as five should be given formal cycling and road awareness training.
The Bikeability scheme is typically offered in school for pupils in Year 5-6 (aged 9-11), yet CSF’s research showed that 35% of 7-9 year olds who took to their bikes regularly, and 14% of 5-6 year olds, ride on roads where there are cars with little or no formal training; these youngsters often have no awareness or appreciation of the risks they are facing, nor do they have the skills to contend with the dangers presented.
More own a cycling helmet than regularly wear it
The research also looked at the ownership and use of safety helmets. 79% of 7-9 year olds owned a helmet, but only 47% said that they wear it on all trips. Amongst 11-14 year olds, ownership dropped to 58%, with 37% saying they wear helmets regularly.
The CSF has worked with children, parents, schools and community groups for 20 years, promoting cycling attitude, skills and personal safety as an integrated cycling plan for children and young people. The Foundation has long advocated that wearing a cycling helmet should be compulsory and its proposal includes mandatory helmets for children aged 14 and under. Teenagers are a particularly challenging group to engage in wearing helmets, but the research suggests that more teenagers would comply if wearing a helmet was required by law.
Mandatory cycle helmet legislation
Angie Lee who founded the Cycle Smart charity some 20 years ago believes that studies and statistics from Canada, France and the States of Jersey, amongst others, provide the evidence required to support mandatory cycle legislation; such legislation is clearly associated with a reduction in head injuries (including injuries to the face and neck) for cyclists of all ages. There is no solid evidence that mandatory use has had any significant effect on cycling rates.
“The government, all adults and road user groups are responsible for ensuring children and young people are safe and active, and we must work collaboratively,” according to Angie. “The move in recent years towards sustainable transport is laudable, but the road infrastructure that has come out of that favours adult commuter cyclists and has neglected vulnerable cycle user groups, particularly young people whose cycling behaviour is very different.
“Our five point proposal includes education and practical training for children from when they start school through to age 13, and for the wearing of helmets to be required for all children up to the age of 14. The education can be delivered within PE and / or PHSE classes already in the curriculum. It’s a tall order given time and cost constraints, and the success of the plan would depend on partnership working with the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the ongoing support of parents and carers through to secondary school level. Cycling retailers could also get involved by including lights and reflectors as standard on new bikes and promoting helmet use.”
The Cycle-Smart Five Point Child Cycling Safety plan
- Introduce cycling and balance bikes into Early Years PE lessons (ages 4-5) to gain co-ordination; include wearing cycle helmets
- Personal Cycle Safety to be taught as part of PSHE with cycle helmets and reflective bands worn as part of training; parents to be provided with information pack on all aspects of safer cycling including peer and image pressure that deters young people from wearing helmets. Parents also to be made aware that training does not automatically bestow proficiency – skills and road sense need continuous development
- Free Bikeability Level 1 training to start in Year 3; Level 2 training in Years 5-6. To be taught as part of PSHE
- Bikeability Level 3 training in secondary schools (Years 7-8) for all pupils cycling to and from school and as part of the Cycle to School policy
- Mandatory helmets for all children 14 years and under
The Foundation also campaigns to ensure that helmets are fitted and fastened properly to mitigate against head and brain injury. The ‘5 Ss’ campaign highlights the need for:
- A helmet that meets current safety STANDARDS
- A helmet that is a SNUG fit
- Helmets should be SQUARELY positioned, sitting on the forehead just above the eyebrows
- The should be SECURE; chin straps must not be twisted and should be adjusted so there is no slack when the helmet is fastened
- A helmet must not obscure ears or eyes as all SENSES are vital for safety
With the help of law firm Boyes Turner, CSF has produced a short video with simple to follow tips to ensure children and adults ‘cycle smart’, including guidance on fitting a helmet correctly.
Claire Roantree, Trustee of Cycle-Smart and Partner at Boyes Turner LLP, says:
“The risks of cycling shouldn’t stop kids getting freer and fitter on their bikes, but helmets must be well-fitted and young children sharing the roads with cars need to be guided and supported parents and schools. We urge all parents of child cyclists to watch the Cycle-Smart video.”
Saved by her helmet now looking to save others
The launch meeting was attended by Jane Godden whose daughter, Maisie, was injured when she came off her bike and fell under a car late in 2016. Thanks to her cycle helmet, the rapid reactions of passers-by, the Hampshire & Isle of White Air Ambulance Service and the medical treatment she received in the Major Trauma Centre at Southampton, Maisie has made a fantastic recovery. Without her helmet, the medics treating her doubt that she would have survived.
Maisie, 12, is now on a mission to get the law changed so that cycle helmets for children become compulsory. If you support the call for compulsory helmets, you can join the online petition lodged on the government website by clicking this link.