PARENTS

Cycling To School: Does Your Child Wear A Helmet?

18/11/2014 16:32 | Updated 20 May 2015

Young Boy Wearing Safety Helmet While Riding A Bike

Before my wife and I agreed to buy our son a brand spanking new bike for his 10th birthday, we insisted on one must-follow law: he had to wear a helmet at all times.

"No problem," said the lad, who would have said anything to get his hands on a 16-geared, 26-inch diameter wheeled Dawes Bullet for his special day. "Whatever you say."

So when the Big Day came, we got a bus down to the bike shop to collect his newly-beloved, bought a helmet that was pure function rather than Aren't-I-Cool design, then he cycled home while I jogged along (nearly killing myself in the process).

His feet barely touched the ground, but given that he seems to be growing at the rate of an inch a day, I figured it was better to get him a bigger model rather than spend another fortune in the shop when he grows out of a smaller bike in six months time.

And because of that bum-to-pedal differential, he was a bit wobbly – which made me all the more relieved that he was wearing a helmet.

For the first few days after the acquisition of this new love of his life, I insisted he only rode it around the park – with the helmet-caveat a must.

There was a reason for this helmet-donning insistence, even though they're not compulsory: a couple of years ago, a friend of my wife had been cycling home from work when he lost an argument with a car door that had been casually flung open by an unthinking motorist.

He flew over his handlebars like a gymnast on the parallels, landing on the road...on his head. His skull was so fractured he spent weeks in intensive care and months in hospital. He's now back at work. But he'd be dead, if it wasn't for the fact he was wearing a helmet.

Yes, despite the fact he took his safety seriously, he ended up having his head caved in. If he hadn't been wearing a helmet, he would be in a coma at best, brown bread at worst.

I didn't tell my son this story because he was more than happy to oblige. He even thought he looked cool in his pointy-at-the-back black helmet with its flash of flame running across the top.

But this safety first feeling was cemented by an article I read about children and cycling to school. There has been a call recently for more kids to get pedalling, saying they're likely to become obese and that it's good for the environment if their parents don't drive them to school.

The sustainable transport charity Sustrans says: "Children spend 45 per cent longer travelling in cars to school than their parents' generation, bringing into focus again the need to get more kids out on their bikes."

Which is a noble intention, no question. But have you seen kids riding on the road on their own? It's terrifying. They hardly seem to look forwards, let alone over their shoulders, to assess the dangers of cars, vans and lorries.

Almost one child a week under the age of 15 is killed riding a bicycle in this country and about 12 a week are seriously injured.

During the single month of September 2012, 305 children were injured cycling to school – more than 10 a day (children are more at risk in the first month of a new school year when many will be finding their way to a new school for the first time).

A study by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents shows that 90 per cent of children's cycling accidents occur between 8.00-9.00 in the morning and 3.00-6.00 in the afternoon.

What are children doing on the roads at those hours? Answer: cycling to and from school.

This week, this became even more of issue when my sons' primary school initiated a Walk, Scoot, Skate or Ride to School Week, in a bid to combat the heavy build-up of parking outside the school gates at drop-off and pick-up times.

The opportunity to ride his bike to school for the first time was seized on by my 10-year-old. As he set off in his bright yellow vest, sleek helmet and stick insect legs, he looked every inch a Sir Bradley Wiggins in waiting.

I watched him disappear to the end of the street to the junction of the main busy road, where – to my great relief – he waited and waited at the zebra crossing until, as I'd taught him, a driver acknowledged his existence and waved him across.

A few mihutes later, I saw him at the bike shed, locking up his trusty steed with a look of grown-up pride in his eyes.

The afternoon pick-up was the same: he gingerly steered his bike through the crowds of walking parents and kids before, as we'd agreed, he headed off to the park with his mates.

It was getting dark, yes, and I didn't trust drivers, no, but I trusted my son's ultra-heightened sense of wariness and caution, and thus trusted he would be fine and would materialise back at home at 5.30pm on the dot.

Which he did – minus his helmet. I almost freaked out.

"What the...where the...why aren't you wearing your helmet?" I chided.

"Chillax, Dad. I'm fine." "Don't you chillax me, you little...grrr...WHY AREN'T YOU WEARING YOUR HELMET?"

He looked at his friends, embarrassed that his old man was given him a public dressing down.

"Because it's not cool, Dad. None of my mates wear one," he replied, prompting said mates to suddenly take a great interest in the spokes on their wheels.

"I don't care what your mates wear or don't wear. You're wearing a helmet or you are NOT going out on your bike. End of."

Then later on, when we sat down and had a father-to-son about the issue, he revealed: "They make fun out of me for wearing a helmet. They say I look like an idiot."

Bless him. He wants to be in with the In Crowd. He wants to be cool. I get that.

"But you won't be very cool if you're lying under a lorry, or you've smashed your head against the pavement kerb," I warned him.

And so he promised me he would always wear his head gear, no matter how much his friends poked fun at him.

The next morning, he asked if he could ride his bike to school and back before going riding with his mates again. He looked me in the eye and promised me he would wear his helmet so I let him go. And now he wants to ride to school every day.

Do I trust him to keep his word? I certainly trust his desire to. But do I think peer pressure is more powerful that dad pressure? Probably.

What's a House dad to do: monitor his every move or stop him going out on his beloved birthday present?

Neither. I've got a better idea: I'm going to enrol him on a cycling proficiency course.

Many local councils run them for free, and the Government-backed Bikeability offers lessons 'designed to give the next generation the skills and confidence to ride their bikes on today's roads'. And to teach them that a helmet is a cyclist's best friend!

For more information go to https://bikeability.dft.gov.uk/

For information on Rules for Cyclists go to https://www.gov.uk/rules-for-cyclists-59-to-82

More:

Going Out
Suggest a correction