The Rules of the Road

I went for a drive today. I did not go very far – just the distance of two subdivisions so that I could drop my son off at a friend’s house. I must have seen at least ten or twelve kids riding bicycles, roller blading and skateboarding. It was a beautiful day so that is not surprising. Sadly, out of those ten or twelve children, only one was wearing a helmet. Even more sadly, I was not surprised because over the past couple of years, it seems that ninety percent of the kids in my community have stopped wearing helmets.

When I was a kid – and probably when you were a kid, too – none of us wore helmets, at least here in the USA. Eventually, however, common sense prevailed and just about everyone, child or adult, started to wear a helmet before engaging in wheeled sports. I don’t know why America stopped putting safety first, but over the past few years, that is what I have seen happen. It runs against everything that we have been taught about the dangers of falling off of a bike or a skateboard or blades without a helmet and, yet, parents still do not force their kids to protect themselves. Just as importantly, parents are not setting good examples by failing to use helmets themselves.

I also observed another disturbing trend today. With every passing week, I continue to see more and more parents allowing their children to sit in the front seat of their cars and to ride without using seatbelts. As every new car’s sun visor reminds us, there is a serious danger to children aged twelve and under who ride in the front seat due to the risk of suffocation if an airbag deploys. Of course, everyone who fails to wear a seatbelt is at far greater risk of suffering a serious injury or death in the event of an accident. Despite these known risks, parents still allow their children to expose themselves to added dangers and fail to set good examples by both following proper safety requirements and enforcing them for all passengers.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers an excellent website with plenty of relevant and, at times disturbing, data regarding bicycle and automobile safety for both children and adults. Everyone should take the time to familiarize themselves with the risks of riding without a helmet, riding without a seatbelt and any of several risks to which children (and adults) can be exposed when traveling on wheels.

There are tremedous costs that can be incurred by not requiring your kids to use proper safety equipment. Injuries that might otherwise be avoided can become significant trauma, resulting in hospitalization, disability, and even death. By taking the right preventive steps, you can avoid the costs associated with hospitalization for major trauma, recovery and therapy costs and, in worst case scenarios, funeral costs. Of course, you may save more than money. You may save the life (or preserve the quality of life) of someone you hold very dear. That should be reason enough.

What do you think? Are American safety laws too restrictive? Do you always obey them when you are riding? Do you make your kids comply? Have you or someone you know ever lost someone or something because of a failure to follow the safety rules of the road? Do you have advice for people who might be reluctant to enforce compliance?

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14 Responses to The Rules of the Road

  1. Debra says:

    I find it disturbing every time I see either kids riding their bikes, skates, scooters, without helmets or kids not in appropriate safety seats.

  2. princessperky says:

    I have kids and I do ask them to wear helmets, but…I don’t see it as a big deal as most.

    You see when a kid is learning to ride they tend to treat it like walking…try for a bit get distracted and try something else, then come back to it.

    IF riding a bike is seen as a huge gear up ordeal my kids would never have learned.

    So yes they ride in my drive way without helmets all the time, and no I don’t insist on uncomfortable knee pads or elbow guards. However I do insist on helmets for when we go out of the driveway, if you are gearing up for a longish trek then gear up properly.

    Car seats are another issue, I feel safety is important, but I feel a balance has to be obtained.

    When you have to spend 15 minutes buckling a 6 year old in to drive for 5 minutes it gets a bit extreme. So yes we buckle up, but we also keep it real, we watch the shoulder strap and use boosters as needed to keep them safe, but we don’t stress, I know I would be safer in a 5 point racing harness, but there are limits, and driving a car is a risk with or without the belt. one we choose to take with reasonable precautions.

    So when was the last time you saw seatbelts on a school bus?

  3. Stephen Waits says:

    Unless they’re hurting you, why worry about it?

  4. Concerned Parent says:

    I am constantly astounded by the lack of safety concern for children. Even in our neighborhood of well educated people I find it easier to count the children without helmets, and without proper child seat restraints. These are educated people! They allow their children to sit without seat belts “just in the neighborhood”. Well, have you ever stopped suddenly because of an animal, or worse yet, a child running out onto the road? Do the books, backpacks, or whatever else is loose in the car shift around dramatically, even when you are only going 20mph? Now imagine what would happen to your child, on your calm street, if you had to suddenly some to a complete stop. Your child might not be killed, but they could easily be thrown into the windshield, or into each other, resulting in severe injury. I care enough about my children that I would not want to risk those preventable injuries!

    Every one seems to have an excuse. There is no excuse, we are the adults and as such it is our responsibility to keep them as safe as we can. My children were taught from birth that when in a car, they are properly restrained, even if that took 15 minutes to properly and securely put in a child seat when moving it from one car to another. They now won’t let us drive off the driveway if they are not finished putting on their seat belt. Some times my oldest does complain about the booster seat, I just remind her that I love her enough to want to keep her safe.

    If children are taught to use a seatbelt with NO exceptions, there will be very little complaints, it’s all they know.

    I don’t know how anyone could live with themselves, if they lost a child, due to a preventable accident, something so easy as buckling a seat belt, or putting on a helmet.

    A man in our neighborhood was riding his bike early one morning, and ended up head over heels, with his head to the pavement. Broke a shoulder bone, and helmet was broken, but luckily he survived, although still with trauma to his shoulder. Someone had been walking their dog on an extended leash, with the leash across the road and thus not visible. That is what caused the cyclists accident. Had he not been wearing his helmet, who knows what brain damage might have been caused.

    It is our duty to keep our children safe, and teach them safe habits. They can decide for themselves when they become adults, until then, it’s up to us.

  5. Linda says:

    I consider myself a pretty relaxed parent. I let my children roam the block with the other kids in the neighborhood, play tag and manhunt and most importantly, I let them make mistakes. Controlled mistakes at 8 and 10 years will teach them valuable lessons. It will teach my children cause and effect. If you make a poor choice, then you must suffer the consequences of your actions. By letting them make small mistakes now, hopefully we are preventing bigger ones in the future.

    One mistake these children of mine will never be allowed to make is not wearing a bicycle helmet. That is not a small mistake. That momentary lack of judgement has the potential to cause a life altering change. Children are not mature enough to realize the implication of forever and unfortunately, most often head injuries are just that, forever. Not wearing knee pads and elbow pads will not erase your long term memory. Nor will it cause you to lose the portion of your brain that controls speach, anger and inhabitions. Not enforcing the rule of wearing a helmut is just irresponsible and lazy parenting.

  6. pearlieq says:

    I’m medium-strict on the helmet issue. General tooling around the driveway and sidewalk in front of the house–no helmet OK. If you’re going past our house, helmet on every time. Not negotiable.

    I’m also apalled at how lax people are becoming with car seats/booster seats/kids in the front. That’s another non-negotiable rule at our house–everyone buckled up in an age-appropriate manner or the car doesn’t go.

    Except for installing the car seat the first time, it has never taken me 15 minutes to get a kid buckled in. It takes about 30 seconds, tops.

    I’m all for “balance” where it’s warranted, but I just don’t think there are gray areas for car safety seats.

  7. Natalie says:

    I neeeever wore a helmet riding a bike and I rode constantly. I’m not saying accidents don’t happen, but I don’t think they’re that big of a deal. The kids where I am would seriously laugh at another kid who wore a helmet. Just a fact of life I guess. However, if I were on a motorcycle I would, or if I had kids and they rode a moped or other motorcycle type vehicle I would insist they wear one.

  8. Ann says:

    The state I live in has a “Click it or ticket” policy when it comes to seatbelts and it’s rigidly enforced… at least in my area of the state. Having lived in the pre-seatbelt age and seen first hand some of the damage that can occur to a human being impacting glass and/or metal, I’m glad.

    I’m absolutely appalled with the mother who states that for a quick errand, it’s too much of a hassle to properly seat and buckle up her youngster. Is she not aware that most accidents occur within 10 miles of the person’s home? Even if she’s a good driver, there are maniacs and mechanical failures, when you least expect them! Isn’t she going to feel terrific about not “wasting” a few minutes when the unexpected happens and her kid ends up dead or injured for life, when someone else’s brakes fail (or they’re too busy on the cell phone to notice) and they run a red light, crashing into her.

    I think that every parent should be forced to visit a traumatic brain injury rehabilitation facility. I have an email friend on the west coast, who suffered just such an injury. He was an engineer, who now has to use a pda to remind him to do everything from eat to take his meds… and he’s one of the lucky ones who can live on his own! He can’t drive any more because the injury has resulted in seizures making him a danger to himself or others if he’s behind the wheel of a car. He can’t follow his profession, but has learned to carve and will occasionally even teach carving, but prolonged social interaction results in overload and brain misfirings (as he puts it), so he has to always have a quiet, safe haven nearby to just sit and relax without people when everything becomes too much. He’s actually an upbeat person and takes a very philosophical view of how his life was turned upside down, by an accident.

    Now sit back and think of a child and all the dreams parents have for that child… and how it could all come to an end just because the child wasn’t wearing a helmet or strapped properly into the right seat.

    “Waste” a little time and be as bit less of a “friend” to the little people in your care.

  9. Preventative measures (e.g., seat belts, helmets, age-appropriate car seats) are important. Probably one could go without such precautions for a long time and have no problems, but it only takes one serious accident…

  10. Diane says:

    Seatbelts and car seats – I don’t care if you’re “just in the neighborhood” – buckle the kids in.

    That statistic about most accidents happening within 5 miles of home really hit home with me recently.

    After dropping my 17 yo off at home, his buddy had an accident on the way to his own house – just 2 blocks & 3 minutes from home.

    Another young driver came over a railroad track, driving 60 mph (speed limit 20) and into the boy’s lane, hitting him head on. He was in a large truck and wearing a seatbelt and had only minor knee injuries. The Sienna was totaled.

    The boy who hit him had to be cut from his car, which took over an hour and is still in the hospital 4 weeks later.

    Without a seatbelt “just in the neighborhood” my son’s friend could be dead. Case closed!

    If it takes 15 minutes to buckle in a 6 yo then either the child is not cooperating (deal with the discipline problem) or your booster seat is way too complicated (get one you’ll actually use). At 6 my kids could and did buckle themselves in – because it was the rule.

  11. spicoloi says:

    good insightful aritcle.

    the laws of saftey should be folllowed because they are put there for a reason.

    Thanks for another insightful article.

  12. Ann says:

    For the mom who lets the kids not use helmets in the driveway, I have a frightening story for you.

    I was working in my front yard one day and glanced up to see a neighbor’s youngster decide to swing out the driveway into the street, where she wasn’t allowed, and did sowithout looking. She lucked out. There was a car coming but the guy driving was following the speed limit and slammed on the brakes stopping inches from her. He was older and just stopped there for a while and I was afraid he’d had a heart attack, but eventually he kept going.

    The father came to me and asked whether anything had happened. I told him the whole story. The girl ended up without bike privileges of any kind for a month that I know of!

    The moral is that kids will decide to swing out in the street “just to turn around” and, unless you’re watching every second, could be hit before you know it. Restricting them to the driveway just doesn’t always work.

  13. Persephone says:

    Most accidents occur at home. A few minutes to enforce a helmet rule with your family is a small cost when balanced against the risk of a head injury — and yes, unfortunately, they do occur.

    And in response to Princessperky’s comment about seatbelts on buses -yes there are!! I’ve seen them on public school buses as well as private school buses.

  14. Lee says:

    I agree that it’s extra work to buckle kids into the car, remind them to wear helmets on their bikes, etc., but I remind myself that most accidents occur within 4 miles of our own houses!

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