Youth Bicycle Safety Education

Presented by Kirby Beck, PCI #002T, Coon Rapids Police Department (retired)


This workshop is intended for public safety personnel who take part in educating youth in bicycling and bicycle safety.  It will give them facts on the crash types that repeatedly affect young cyclists.  With this information they will be able to put together education and training strategies that will provide meaningful and effective bicycle crash deterrence.

The Cross-Fisher Study was a comprehensive study that took place in the mid-70’s by two behavioral psychologists.  It discovered that most fatal and non-fatal car-bicycle crashes were a result of behavior that was predictably repeated.  The study grouped incidents into eight crash types of similar behavior and / or errors that resulted in these crashes.  They determined in crashes involving children, the error was usually a result of behavior of the child cyclist.  Children had little experience with traffic and that inexperience was a factor in many of the incidents. In crashes involving adults, who have more experience in traffic, the motorist most often makes the error in the crash.

The Cross Study also recommended a number of countermeasures, particularly as it related to children, intended to teach children how to avoid that dangerous behavior.

This workshop will examine the three crash types that most often affect children, and will examine the on-bike skills that should be taught as countermeasures to those crash types.

Attached are several addendums that describe and illustrate the crash types, describe an effective behavioral designed bike rodeo (skills course), and examine traditional vs. non-traditional bicycle education methods and ideas. 

Too often, bike rodeos are actually balance skill “competitions” that fail to teach any traffic skills that will effectively reduce car-bike crashes involving children.  Knowing the facts of how and why these crashes happen will allow educators to develop programs that will ultimately reduce bike crashes and related injuries and deaths.

Youth Bicycle Crash Facts


Nearly 90% of all car/bike crashes involving children are the result of predictable events.   Whether they are in Orlando or Los Angeles, children on bicycles commit the same errors that lead to these few common crash types.  Education based on recognizing these crash types and teaching traffic-based skills designed to avoid them can reduce these predictable and common crash types.  This training is best done with the children on bikes in situations that simulate conditions of traffic.

The Cross Study

In the 1970’s, two behavioral scientists, Drs. Kenneth Cross and Gary Fisher, conducted a study for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  The report they released was titled, A Study of Bicycle-Motor Vehicle Accidents – Identification of Problem Types and Countermeasure Approaches.  The report identified unique behaviors or problems, and ways to reduce them, and thereby reduce bicycle/car crashes.  The report uses certain terms, definitions, and concepts that police bicycle safety educators should be familiar with and use.


Accident:  A term used to describe an event in which  one or more vehicles or parties are involved and damage or injury occurs.  This term is used now primarily for reporting purposes.  The word "accident" implies that the event was an unavoidable occurrence.  Crash is the preferred term among safety professionals.  All but a very few crashes are unavoidable.

Crash:  The preferred replacement for the word “accident.”  Crash factors can be studied for common characteristics to learn how to avoid future occurrences.
Safety Product:  An element or package of actions (countermeasures) designed to reduce crashes.  It can involve any of the elements of traffic safety: engineering, education, or enforcement.

Fault:  Police are often asked to determine who was “at fault” in a crash.  Police determine the factors and errors that resulted in the crash.  Fault is most appropriately determined by courts, juries or insurance companies.

Cause:  The factors that resulted in the crash, as determined by investigation.  For example, the failure of person to adequately search ahead, plan for and then take corrective action are causal factors.  Cause can result from the actions of one or more people involved.  Fault implies that only one person caused the crash.

Conspicuity:  The quality or property of attraction and visibility.  Comes from the word conspicuous.  Lights, reflectors, fluorescent clothing and devices, and position relative to traffic all contribute to a cyclist’s conspicuity. 

Accident/Crash Class/Type:  The scientific breakdown of separate crashes into mutually exclusive conditions and factors that provide highly defined and repeatable patterns or types.  Crash class plays a role in the development of safety products.

Bicycle Crash Reports and Data

Note:  only a small percentage of bicycle crashes are even reported.

Over 500,000 people are injured on bicycles each year in the U.S.

Crashes resulting in injuries requiring medical treatment are reported to the police in about one out of every ten incidents.

How many here have ever been injured while riding a bicycle?  How many reported it to the police?

Reporting requirements:  According to all traditional reporting systems, such as FARS, USDOT and state systems, the accident must involve a motor vehicle in order to generate a report and be counted as an accident statistic. 

Most bicycle crashes do not involve motor vehicles.  These crash types are examples:

  • Bike Overturn
  • Bike Off-road
  • Bike/Fixed object
  • Bike/Bike
  • Bike/Pedestrian
  • Bike/Dog

If police are called to the scene, these are reported as public accidents, not vehicular accidents, and do not get reported to the traditional record keeping sources.

Still more go unreported because those involved deem them minor, do not want the police involved, or do not want their insurance companies or the neighbors to know, etc.

Statistics are deceiving as to the true number of bicycle-related injuries.  Even deaths may not be reported accurately if they do not involve a car.

Medical reporting will provide a more accurate sense of the true numbers.  Case in point: a 1988 Milwaukee Children’s Hospital Study revealed that 3,500+ patients were treated for bike-related injuries, while the entire state of Wisconsin reported only 1,800 bicycle-related injuries in their official crash data. (Source:  Susan Cavalich, former Bike Coordinator, WI DOT)

While more children are killed as pedestrians each year, more children are injured while bicycling than in any other activity.  Please note that in some locations, bicycle injuries may be exceeded by injuries from inline skating and riding scooters.

Bicycle/Motor Vehicle Crashes


  • 80% of the bicycle crashes involve injuries to males. 
  • Nearly half of all fatal crashes occur in low light or nighttime conditions.  
  • In 2/3 of the cases, drivers said they did not see the bicyclists in time to avoid the crash.
  • Only 15% of all bicycle crashes involve motor vehicles, but 85% of the fatalities involve motor  vehicles.
  • Head and/or neck injuries are the primary cause of death in 80-85% of bicycle fatalities.
  • Head and/or neck injuries are involved in about 75% of all bike crash-related permanent disabilities.
  • Late afternoon hours show a higher frequency of bicycle/motor vehicle crashes. 

The Ken Cross-Gary Fisher Study
The study examined Bicycle/Motor Vehicle accidents from urban and suburban areas of Orlando, Los Angeles, Denver, and Detroit.  Cross & Fisher studied 753 non-fatal and 166 fatal crashes, conducting interviews with persons involved and making on-site inspections.  Their data resulted in the distinguishing of 36 unique problem types, and seven general classes.  This research is summarized in a 1978 AAA document entitled Bicycle-Safety Education – Facts and Issues (1978).  Though based on 15-year old research, this data is believed to be as valid today as the day it was published.

General Information on Children’s Bike Crashes
The three common crash classes described below, together with wrong-way riding, account for nearly 90% of the motor vehicle/bike crashes involving children.

In most crashes involving children, the child commits the primary error, and the driver does not or cannot adjust for the child’s error in time to prevent the crash.

A significant number of these crashes occur in residential neighborhoods in which children with poor traffic skills do not fear riding.

The number of fatal crashes involving children is dropping; however, the number of adults killed on bicycles is increasing.  Alcohol is a factor in many of those crashes.

An additional factor complicating these accident types is riding on sidewalks and side paths.  Bicyclists on sidewalks are often not noticed by motorists.  When bicycles enter or cross a roadway, problems arise and crashes occur.  Bike crash studies from Ft. Lauderdale, FL, which has one of the highest per capita bike fatality rates, showed that nearly 60% of the fatalities involved sidewalk cyclists.

Cross Study:  Most Common Accident Types Involving Children

Class A – Bicyclist Midblock Rideouts [Fatal 15 % Non-Fatal 14%]

Type 1 — Residential driveway /alley rideout

Type 2 — Commercial driveway/alley rideout

Type 3 — Pre-crash route parallel to road then out a driveway or alley apron

Type 4 — Pre-crash route to road, entry over curb or shoulder

Primary Errors for Class A crash type:

  • Failure to stop and search for traffic.
  • Failure to yield right of way
  • Inability to judge closing speeds of approaching vehicles
  • Following peers/“Groupthink”

Class B – Bicycle Rideout - Controlled Intersection [Fatal 12% Non-Fatal 17%]

Type 5 – Bike Rideout, intersection controlled by sign

Type 6 – Bike Rideout, intersection controlled by signal, phase change

Type 7 – Bike Rideout, intersection controlled by signal, multiple threat

Primary Errors of Class B crash type:

  • Failure to obey traffic control device
  • Failure to search and see oncoming vehicles
  • Inability to judge closure speed
  • Failure of wrong way cyclist to see the stop sign
  • Cyclist entering on a yellow light trapped by the light

Class E – Bicyclist Unexpected Turn or Swerve [Fatal 16% Non-Fatal 14%]

Type 18 – Bicycle Unexpected Left Turn, same direction*.

* Note: people may use this crash type to justify riding against traffic. This crash type is preventable if the cyclist scans behind prior to moving out into the traffic lane.

Primary Errors for Class E crash type:

  • Failure to search or scan traffic to the rear before moving out into the traffic lane
  • Failure to signal intention to turn or change course
  • Failure to keep watch and recognize hazards in time to respond to them
  • Failure to take the entire lane, if necessary, to avoid hazards, opening doors, etc.
  • Inability to hear the sound of vehicles approaching from the rear due to    headphone use.
A Word About Wrong-Way Riding

Nearly 1/3 of all car–bike crashes involve cyclists riding against traffic.

Cyclists riding against traffic are outside of the area normally searched by drivers.  They are essentially invisible as they approach an intersection.

Traffic control devices are placed for viewing by drivers on the right side of the street.  Wrong-way riders are threat to other cyclists too!

All of the crash types are aggravated by wrong way riding.

90% of the car-bike crashes involve actions or conditions that happen in front of cyclists, yet    many cyclists’ greatest fear is what is coming up behind them.  They put themselves into dangerous situations by trying to “be safe.”

Wrong way cyclists present a danger to cyclists operating legally. 

Riding on the right is the law in all 50 states!

Teach children and their parents to always ride with traffic.

Youth Bicycle Education Ideas For Practitioners

Traditional Approaches and Why they Fail

“Traditional Education” conducted by police

  • Lyceum, small group, or classroom presentation
  • Presenter comes in, tells a few horror stories, quotes a few laws, and shows a movie
  • Bike rodeos have a competition format and primarily feature balance skills

Problems associated with “Traditional Approaches”

  • Lack of interaction and motivation
  • Lack of on-bike experiences by students and perhaps the instructor
  • May not address actual problems such as those contained in the Cross Study and/or    community bike crash analyses
  • School/teachers are seldom involved, except as observers
  • Many presentations are based solely on “laws” rather than the practical problems faced  by cycling kids 
New Approaches

Planning and Creativity are the Keys to a Better Way!

Ages:  Needs and problems are often different at different age and experience levels. 
Training based on Cross Study findings or a community crash study
Training considers problems unique to the area, or recent events or crashes
Considers prior training/education of the students

Lyceum (large group of over 100 people)
Medium group (30-100 people)
Small group  (fewer than 30 people)

Contact the school administrator early to reserve the date.
Reserve times, grades attending, arrange for AV equipment, etc.
Consider the average attention span for a classroom session is about 45 minutes.
Allow additional time if the presentation is active (on-bike).


  • Lecture
  • Movie or video
  • Demonstration
  • Interactive group games
  • Slide or PowerPoint presentation
  • Hands-on exercises
  • On-bike skills training


Potential Sponsors

  • School
  • PTO
  • Community Civic Group
  • Police or Government
  • Bike Club or Bike Shop
  • Neighborhood or Community Association

Overall Goals

  • Target skills designed to prevent crashes and injuries
  • Traffic skills vs. balance skills
  • Learning-oriented, not competition-oriented (don’t score it!)
  • Scenarios as realistic, yet safe, as possible
  • Involve parents/teachers as much as possible, so they learn too!
  • Skills stations vs. non-stop circuit course


  • Large Bicycle Jamboree
  • Smaller Neighborhood Rodeo
  • On-bike, on-road training

Rodeo Skills Stations:  Learning Goals and Objectives

Driveway Rideout Station
  • Walk bike to the end of driveway
  • Mount bike, assume power take-off position
  • Search: look left, right, left again
  • Assessment and problem solving
  • Recognize and compensate for visual obstructions
Stop Sign Rideout Station
  • Stop bike at sign (Quit Moving!)
  • Put foot down for balance
  • Place other foot in power take-off position
  • Search and Assess: look left, right, left, forward and over left shoulder for cars
Rear Scan Exercise (Unexpected Left Turn)
  • Ride straight line 3’ to 4’ lane, right side of street
  • Ride straight while scanning over shoulder
  • Assess hazards while scanning to the rear
  • Signal a left turn and turn safely, placing hand back on handlebar before turning.*

*Note: if you are working with very young children, consider not having them signal. They often focus more on the signaling and forget the more important skill of search behind them.

Rock Dodging Skills (Unexpected Left Swerve)
  • Search for surface hazards
  • Quickly steer front tire around the hazard while remaining in the same linear path
  • Develop the skill by turning on each side of the hazard
  • Avoid a wide swerve into the path of traffic approaching from the rear
Parked Car Exercise (Unexpected Swerve)
  • Recognize the potential hazard of parked cars
  • Search the interior and look for signs of potential movement or door opening
  • Search to the rear before moving into traffic lane, signal intention to move left
  • Assume lane position slightly wider than an opened car door
  • Hold your line, maintain the lane position, and don’t zigzag
Traffic Signal Exercise (This requires a signal light at the training site)
  • If approaching on green: search left, right, left and forward before entering intersection
  • If approaching & light turns yellow: stop. Yellow means STOP to a cyclist.
  • If crossing the intersection & light turns yellow: hurry so you don't get trapped.
  • If stopped at a red light, follow the steps for the stop sign rideout
Bicycle Security Station
  • Explain importance of bicycle security and registration
  • Demonstrate various locking devices and proper use
  • Emphasize that the child is responsible for the security of the bike, not the police
Helmet Demonstration Station
  • Show different type of helmets, including “cool” styles
  • Demonstrate proper helmet fit
  • Demonstrate the effectiveness of a helmet with an egg
Rules of the Road/Find the Hazards Station 
  • Hands-on quiz of road or visual hazards to increase knowledge and awareness
  • Quiz on the importance of following the rules of the road to avoid crashes
"Police Cyclist" Cone Course Challenge
  • Set up a PC Course Cone Course such as the Offset Serpentine or Lock to Lock
Slow Races
  • Set up two side-by-side lanes of cones.  The last one to the end without touching a foot to the ground wins.

An Example of An Interactive Group Game


When teaching bike safety in a large or small group classroom setting, a game is a wonderful way to involve all of the children.  Children are typically familiar with a game show format, which truly does involve everyone who hears the question – because everyone tries to answer.   “Game shows” are a great way to test information you have passed on to them. When you explain the answer, they are being lectured to and they don’t even realize it!  You may use “The Bike Is Right,” or you can invent your own game.


  • Two bike horns or bells
  • A scoreboard and scorekeeper
  • Chairs (optional)
  • Microphone: to announce “Come On Down” to the contestants and to read the questions
  • Questions on bicycle safety that emphasize the important learning points
  • Contestants
  • A judge to determine first “honk”
  • A Master of Ceremonies – MC

This game is suited to two players (or two teams of up to four children) who should be selected in advance with the assistance of teachers or the principal.  Avoid shy kids as well as cut-ups.  It is best if the kids do not know if they are the contestants in advance. 

Usually 20-30 minutes


  • Players are seated or standing, holding the horns or bells.
  • The MC reads the question and the player honks the horn if he/she knows the answer.
  • If the person knows the answer, a point is awarded.  If not, the other person gets to try to answer the question.  If he/she answers correctly, a point is awarded. 
  • If two horns honk at the same time, the judge must call “first honk”.  The judges ruling cannot be contested.  Pick a respected teacher to be the judge.
  • The player, or team, with the most points at the end of the game wins.
  • Do what works and have fun!


  • Everyone watching the game, contestants and spectators, is involved in the learning because   they all hear the questions.
  • After each question, the MC is given a chance to better explain the answer. The kids don’t even realize they are hearing a lecture. 
  • Everyone should get a prize:  “There are no losers when you practice bike safety.”

An Example of a Handout for Parents

Bicycling can and should be a fun and safe means of travel for you and your children. Your direct involvement and periodic supervision regarding bicycle education is essential if your child is to master the necessary traffic skills for safe bicycling. This is true even if they only ride on your local street!

After your child has learned to balance and control a bicycle, you should immediately begin to teach basic traffic skills. Remember that your child will be riding his/her bicycle in the same traffic mix as those operating motor vehicles.  Below are the most common errors children make while riding a bicycle, and how you, as a parent, can reduce the likelihood of an injury.  Your job of teaching your child to ride a bicycle doesn’t end when you can quit running along beside them.  That is when the real work begins!

Remember this most important safety advice:  You and your child should always wear a helmet whenever you ride bikes.  You are NEVER old enough to not need a helmet.

Driveway Rideout
In fifty percent (50%) of all bicycle crashes involving children under nine years old, the child is killed or seriously injured while riding out of his/her own driveway.
Teach your child to always walk the bicycle from the garage to the edge of the road, and begin his/her trip only after searching for traffic – first left, then right, and then left again.  Consider painting a line at the end of the driveway to act as a reminder for your child to stop and search for traffic before entering the street or roadway.

Stop Sign Rideout
Thirty-three percent (33%) of serious bicycle injuries involving children thirteen years old or under are simply a failure to stop for a stop sign in their own neighborhood.  Many adults glide through stop signs, setting a poor example.  Children do not possess the mental skills to quickly search for traffic and determine the closure speed of oncoming traffic, without first stopping at the sign.  A full stop is necessary every time.  Take the time to walk down to an intersection with your child.  Explain that he/she as an individual must search for traffic, and not to rely on a friend.  Tell them not to expect the driver of a motor vehicle to always stop at a stop sign.

Sudden Left Swerve
Thirty-three percent (33%) of children age thirteen and under are seriously injured when making a sudden (and unexpected) left swerve across one or more lanes of traffic.  The child may be responding to road debris, a dog in a yard or simply wants to go see a friend across the street.  They fail to look behind them to see if there are cars about to overtake them.

Take your child to a parking lot, or other safe place, and teach him/her to search over the shoulder without swerving into traffic.  Teach them to do this before they move out into the traffic lane or make a left turn.  Establish this rule: NEVER change lanes or make a left turn without conducting a proper rear search. Remember – this skill takes practice.

Riding Against Traffic
Children riding against traffic are frequently involved in accidents at intersections and driveways because motorists do not expect them to be there.  As a result, bicyclists become “invisible” to motorists at intersections and driveways.  As a result, the motorist will turn into or in front of them.  Very few bike accidents occur when a bicyclist, who is going straight, is struck from behind by a motorist.  Most rear-end crashes happen when the cyclist swerves in front of the motorist. You are never safer riding against traffic.  It is against the law to ride against traffic in all fifty states.

Riding at Night and Inclement Weather
Never allow your child to ride after dark, even if his/her bike is equipped with a good lighting system, and especially if the bike has reflectors only.  Nearly half of bicycle fatalities occur at night, or during reduced light hours, even though only three percent (3%) of the bicycling community rides at night.

Encourage your child not to ride during inclement weather, as it hampers conspicuity as well as the ability to control the bike.  Tape “phone change” inside his/her helmet and give instructions to call home for a ride if fog, rain, or other serious weather conditions create dangerous riding conditions.

This workshop is presented by Kirby Beck at the Annual IPMBA Conference. 

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  • Donna

    Please send recommendations for sponsors or funding for youth bike safety programs. We are community not for profit. Our project begins this May.

    07:31pm, 01/19/2014

    Check with your local retailers, insurance agencies, hospital/health care systems, civic organizations, etc.  Retailers and insurance companies often supply helmets; restaurants and convenience stores might donate food and beverages; health care systems often get involved with bike safety education as injury prevention, etc.  If your community has a Safe Routes to School program, you might find some funding opportunities there as well.  Good luck!

    10:56am, 01/20/2014

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