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.

The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute has information about what kinds of helmets are safe and which not. BikeAlameda also offers free bike safety classes for families and for teens.

Let teen guy riders know: Really, riding safe is cool.


Photo of Charlie riding by the author.


dawn w.
Dawn W6 years ago

Sad about the boy's death. In all seriousness,not to joke,teenage boys tend to be idiots on all fronts.Just remembering the boys I knew in my teen years,and the ones I see now.Not the brightest lights on the tree,sorry.

Past Member
Inari T6 years ago

I suspect that the problem will never be eradicated, as teenagers' brains haven't developed the capacity to appreciate fully the likely consequences of their actions, and their delightful tendency to live in the moment, absorbed in whatever they're thinking, means that no set of laws or parental advice will be fully effective. And when they've survived their dare-devil cycling feats, they become car drivers...

Fred H.
Fred H6 years ago

Schools need to enforce the law. They don't allow any student to steal, assault, vandalize, smoke marijuana, etc. — but they turn a blind eye to all the students who commute by bicycle without helmets (even though our state law requires it). I had to be "the" advocate in my own school district before they took any action.

Harsha Vardhana R
Harsha Vardhana6 years ago

Proper guidance is the most important thing. Else pollution would kill non-riders too!!

Brenda Towers
Brenda Towers6 years ago

Children need the right equipment and lessons in safety.

Marie W.
Marie W6 years ago

Times changed- bike riding with headphones and crap; no awareness and no parental guidance- formula for quick death.

Vernon Huffman
Vernon Huffman6 years ago

Let's remember what the safety threat is. Cars kill. If you want to promote safety, give up the car and bicycle with your kids. I bicycled 4500 miles with a 12-yr-old, her 2-yr-old twin sisters, and their mama. It was a great experience and very good for the kids.

Michael B.
Michael B.6 years ago

About one hour ago a kid in his late teens flew across the highway on his bike a few hundred feet in front of me. He was wearing headphones, and had no idea what was going on around him. This didn't dissuade him from gawking over his left shoulder and steering with one hand in order to wave at his friend, resulting in his swerving into the middle of the lane no more than 40 feet in front of me. If I hadn't anticipated his stupidity and had my foot on the brake already he'd be dead now. Maybe bicycles ought to require some sort of graduated licensing.

Paula Hurley
.6 years ago

noted, thanks

Gia Z.
Gianna M6 years ago

This is a very important issue that parents really need to pay attention to. I've been on both sides of this issue. My son was hit by a car while riding his bike last year. The driver simply wasn't paying attention and "didn't see him." Thankfully, my son wears safety gear and obeys the rules of traffic -- he got away with minor injuries.

But yesterday two teenage boys shot out in front of me -- crossing the lanes of traffic without stopping or looking. I had to slam on my brakes and nearly was rear ended. Scared me to death. The last thing I want to be responsible for is the injury or, God forbid, death, of someone's child.

The problem is, is that wasn't the first time. You have to constantly be aware of bicyclists because they simply don't abide by the rules. I'm at the point where I think that maybe there should be a test and licensure for bikes.