Teenage Boys on Bikes: Unsafe At Every Speed?
Care2 blogger Angela Braun recently wrote about summer safety for special needs kids. Indeed, a local parents’ group recently hosted a “summer water safety” lecture and the tragic death of 10-year-old Kristina Vlassenko highlights the need to do everything we can to keep our kids safe, especially in the warm summer months. Another potential hazard is kids on skateboards, scooters and bicycles.
According to the New York Times, children — especially boys aged 12 to 16 — are the most prone to bicycle accidents in the Bay Area in northern California. This statistic hit me right in the gut. We live in northern New Jersey but the Bay Area is where I grew up and where most of my family lives. My son Charlie is 14 years old: He loves, loves, loves to ride his bike, preferably fast in a headlong kind of way down the street. For adolescent and teenage boys, full of energy and (in my son’s case) with a seeming endless capacity for physical activity (and food), riding a bike is a liberating and powerful experience.
But it’s also fraught with dangers of the sort that teenagers may know, but are fast to forget about (because teenagers know they’re invincible, right?). A Bay Citizen analysis of bike accident data from the California Highway Patrol found that, in the Bay Area, cyclists aged 10 to 19 were involved in more than 3,200 traffic collisions from 2005 to 2009, more than any other age group, including 20-something males (who were, it’s true, in the second-most collisions, about 3,100 from 2005 to 2009).
13-year-old Brandon Sorenson was struck by an SUV at an intersection in Alameda, CA, says the New York Times:
By chance, his mother, Tammy, came upon him lying in the street as she drove past. She held her son one last time; he died at a nearby hospital….
The police are still investigating Brandon Sorensen’s accident, and the cause is unknown. The driver is cooperating, and no charges have been filed, according to the Alameda Police Department.
The police and experts in bicycle safety said adolescents, as inexperienced riders, often put themselves in danger because they are unfamiliar with traffic laws. The California Vehicle Code requires cyclists to ride on the right side of the road and follow all traffic rules, including stop signs, traffic lights and signaling.
“Bicyclists don’t think they’re vehicles on the roadway,” Sgt. Steve Paich of the Oakland Police said. “They feel like they should be treated like pedestrians.”
According to the police, teenagers were “judged … to be at fault 63 percent of the time,” while riders in theirs 20s were at fault in 46 percent of accidents.
While all these data show the need for teaching teenage cyclists more about bike safety, kids that age are as likely to shrug off instruction about traffic law and safety measures like wearing helmets. Cyclists in California under 18 are required by law to wear a helmet.
Still, the efforts have to be made. I’d at least say that we need to toughen up on enforcing helmet-wearing laws. My husband always accompanies Charlie on their bike rides, which have actually had the helpful side-effect of teaching Charlie understand traffic (a huge challenge for many autistic children).Charlie does always insist on wearing his helmet and on his dad wearing his.
Let teen guy riders know: Really, riding safe is cool.
Photo of Charlie riding by the author.