As summer draws to an end and kids return to school, it is important to plan afterschool and weekend activities that keep us moving. The cooler fall weather is perfect for wheeled sports. Wheeled sports activities are a great way for kids to be active, spend time with friends and family, and learn new skills. As always, your local firefighters want to make sure your kids are staying safe while wheeling around.

When people think about wheeled sports, they often think about bicycles. It is estimated that each month, three out of four children in the United States spend time riding a bike. Besides being a popular recreational activity, bicycling is also a common source of injuries. Bike injuries are the second most common type of athletic and recreational sports injuries.

The 4-Safety Program, through Hasbro Children’s Hospital, raises awareness and educates families about ways they can reduce their risk of experiencing an injury and live healthier, safer lives. The 4-Safety Program was recently featured at the Watch Hill Fire Department’s annual Fire Prevention and Safety Night.

Program Coordinator Andrea Cheli shared that the 4-Safety Program hosts events throughout Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. Her safety team focuses on a different injury topic each season, and they choose the topic based on hospital injury data and community data. The safety team visits each event in the 4-Safety van, which contains a widescreen TV, interactive computer tablets, a sound system, and giveaways. At the event in Watch Hill this summer, the safety team raised awareness about wheeled sports safety and they distributed bike helmets to many of the 150 visitors to the fire station.

According to Safe Kids Worldwide, every two minutes a child is treated in an emergency room for a bike-related accident. Safe bicycling starts with choosing the right bike for your child. Make sure you select a bike that fits your child. Avoid getting a bike that is too big just because you want your child to grow into it. It is unsafe for a child to ride a bike that is too big. Before each ride, it is suggested that you perform a basic bike check. Make sure that tires are properly inflated. Check the brakes to be certain they are working. Verify that the chain is clean and moves smoothly. If your bike has gears, make sure they shift easily.

Safe Kids Worldwide also reports that the risk of severe brain injury can be reduced by up to 88% by simply wearing a bicycle helmet. Before your child is ready to hit the pavement, make sure that he or she is wearing a helmet, and establish this rule: “No Helmet, No Bike!” The helmet you select for your child should fit just as well as the bicycle.

Safe bicycling means being visible and predictable. In addition to wearing bright colors and reflective materials at night, having lights and reflectors on the bicycle will make you more visible. Using hand signals for turns and stops, obeying traffic rules, and crossing at designated intersections and crosswalks will make you predictable. These rules are also especially important when riding on bike paths, close to traffic, and on streets.

According to Cheli, there is more to wheeled sports than just bicycling. Skateboards, scooters, roller blades, and even hoverboards are all wheeled activities that require a helmet for safety.

Experts at Rhode Island Hospital advise that you should always protect your head before you ride. They suggest that you wear a bike helmet for biking and a multi-sport helmet when participating in other wheeled sports. Multi-sport helmets are designed to protect more of the back of the head since backward falls are more common on roller blades, scooters, and skateboards. The National Safety Council reports that wrist injuries are most common in skateboarding due to frequent falling, so be sure to wear wrist guards, elbow pads and knee pads. Keep in mind that statistics show that foot-powered scooters cause more injuries to kids than any other toy. 

Rollerblading and skateboarding are not recommended for children under the age of 6 due to their poor coordination and sense of balance. Even children between ages 6 and 10 need close supervision when riding. Scooters are best for children 8 and up. Despite their popularity, hoverboards are not recommended at any age. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has yet to identify a brand of hoverboard that they believe is safe enough to use.

No matter how you roll, always choose a safe area that is away from traffic and avoid streets or very crowded areas. Skate parks, playgrounds, and bike paths are ideal locations for safe wheeling. For more information about wheeled sport safety and the 4-Safety Program, visit 4-Safety.org.

This column was written by Jane Perkins, Fire Safety Specialist for the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League and Captain of the Watch Hill Fire Department. If you would like to see a question answered in this column, please e-mail her at askafirefighter@yahoo.com.

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