Cycling is a great way to keep fit and active. However, whether it’s a young child cycling in the park on his first bike, or an older child cycling to school, cycle accidents are a real risk for children and young people. You can help parents identify the risks with cycling, and help their child to manage those risks, so they can cycle more safely.

Cycle safety is not just an issue for cyclists - drivers have to be aware of cyclists, just as the reverse is true. The most serious injuries and deaths occur when a child is hit by traffic on the road. Remember that most parents will also be drivers!

While children are learning new skills all the time, it’s also important they don’t try things that are beyond their ability. Accidents and Child Development, CAPT’s guide for practitioners, gives you age-specific information to help you understand when children are ready for their first bike, and when they can start cycling on the road.

How many children are killed or injured in cycle accidents?

  • Children aren’t just injured on the road. Many young cyclists collide with objects or other people, or simply fall off their bikes. Over 2,000 children are taken to A&E each year after a cycling accident at home, and a further 21,000 after accidents in places like parks and playgrounds.
  • Although wearing a cycle helmet is not a legal requirement, the chances of suffering a serious head injury in an accident, for example a fractured skull or brain damage, increase if a child isn’t wearing one.

How can we prevent cycle accidents?

It’s easier to prevent accidents when you understand what children are capable of. CAPT’s publication Accidents and Child Development breaks down a child’s abilities at different ages, and explains what this means for their activity. For example:

  • Did you know children struggle to judge speed and distance accurately? They also vary in how well they can control a bike and understand road safety. This means that a child is unlikely to be able to cycle safely in traffic without adult supervision until they are about 11 years old.
  • Most children are ready to start cycling at around the age of 5. Their co-ordination is much better than younger children, and they are able to learn quickly. With supervision they can cycle off road.

Whether you’re educating parents about cycle safety or looking to talk to children directly about it, there are a few suggestions that you can follow to lower the risk of accidents for children.

As children get older, they can learn the rules of the road, and the main dangers to look out for when cycling in traffic. Practical training for children is very important, and this can be done through local cycle training schemes – road safety officers will have details of what is available locally.

Wearing a cycle helmet can save lives and prevent brain damage. Although there is no legal requirement to wear one, recent research shows that:

  • At least 10% of deaths could have been prevented if the cyclist had worn a cycle helmet.
  • Around 40% of all cyclists admitted to hospital have suffered head injuries.
  • In 10% of hospital admissions for serious cycling injuries (skull fractures and brain damage) the injuries could have been prevented or reduced if the cyclist had worn a helmet.

Bright coloured, reflective or fluorescent clothing helps children to be seen by other road users, especially at night or in poor weather.

More information

More information about cycle safety, and the right ages for children to get out on bikes, can be found in Accidents and Child Development. We also recommend you visit the following websites for more detailed information about cycle safety:

The Cycle Smart Foundation
Department for Transport
Road Safety Scotland

If you would like more information on general road safety for parents, why not look at CAPT’s picture booklet It’s fun to go out, but... which is available in the online shop.

There are other important aspects of accident prevention, such as legislation and the physical, social and financial environment that children and families live in. Find out more about the role of practitioners in preventing childhood injuries and deaths from accidents.