Recently, the Fort Myers News-Press delved into the issue of bicycling safety in Southwest Florida – or rather, the great lack thereof for so many riders.

The newspaper chronicled how Florida had the most bicycle deaths of anywhere in the nation last year, and the 1,400 bicycle crashes in Lee and Collier County over the last five years were most commonly caused by careless, drunk or distracted motor vehicle drivers.

childbicycle1-300x199There was also ample discussion regarding the vitriol aimed at adult cyclists who share the roadway. That kind of hostility isn’t usually directed at child bicycle riders. However, the sheer number of bicycle crashes requires that child bicyclists be taught the rules of the road, and how to ride defensively. Recently, The News-Press tackled this issue as well in a story called, “Biking With Kids.”

The reporter begins by detailing one Fort Myers mother’s effort to teach her young daughter how to safely bicycle to school. Her mother rides closest to the road, her daughter trailing on her own bicycle a few paces behind. The mother points out every hazard she notes: The mini-van quickly backing out of the driveway, the drivers (including parents) distracted by cell phones, the cars rushing to beat the bikers to the stop sign or those who block the crosswalk.

She comments so many drivers are on their phones and in a hurry. She laments more people don’t give a little more space to cyclists and that there aren’t more bicycling lanes. But she can’t change them all today. So she teachers her daughter how to communicate with those drivers using hand signals. She instructs her 6-year-old daughter on the rules of the road and how to protect herself from careless drivers.

Those skills could well mean life or death for a child rider here in Southwest Florida.

While bicycling has long been viewed as a symbolic measure of childhood freedom in the U.S., there are a lot of parents who are afraid to allow their child to venture to school (or anywhere else) on a bicycle without close supervision.

The Safe Kids coordinator at the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida says this is understandable, considering the number of children being treated for bicycling injuries is more than for any other sport. In 2012 in Lee County, more than 250 children between the ages of 5 and 14 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for bicycling injuries. In Collier County, there were 120 children of that same age during the same time treated for such injuries.

Of course, those children are technically in the minority. Most children aren’t hurt when they take their bicycle out. This is at least in part due to efforts by local school districts, bicycle safety advocates and the state department of transportation to make routes safer. Health classes now offer bicycle training and safety information. Another service offers free helmet fittings. Helmets are proven to reduce the risk of a head injury in children by nearly 90 percent. Florida law requires children under 16 to wear a helmet while bicycling.

Of 11 bicyclists who were killed in Southwest Florida last year, the youngest was a 15-year-old in Cape Coral who was struck during his morning ride to school by a Lee County sheriff’s deputy.

While parents can’t control the actions of drivers, they can commit to modeling good cycling practices for their child, and making sure they appreciate the very real potential for danger.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

Biking With Kids, March 13, 2015, By Janine Zeitlin, The News-Press

More Blog Entries:

Bicycle Deaths in Southwest Florida Spur Calls for Change, March 13, 2015, Fort Myers Bicycle Injury Lawyer Blog