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Topic1 Intro It’s a very special time for every parent when the child starts riding their own bike. Whether your youngster is gliding along scooting their feet on a balance bike, using training wheels, or has “graduated” to pedaling and is balancing on their own, most kids get their start by biking in driveways, parking lots and sidewalks.
Topic1 Social1 Doctors say young kids (under ages 10-13; it depends on the kid) have not developed the coordination, motor skills or peripheral vision to safely operate their bicycle in traffic. It's hard for them this young to judge distances, speeds, and how soon an approaching vehicle will be near them. Many municipalities throughout New York State allow young kids to bike in the street as long as they have an adult with them but require young kids to bike on the sidewalk or separated bike facility when an adult is absent. For instance, Rochester’s City Code stipulates that "Unless accompanied by a rider over 18 years of age, children 12 years of age or under shall ride bicycles on the sidewalk, cycle track, ... or multi-use trail." Check with your City or Town for local rules.
Topic1 Social2 Let’s examine some basic sidewalk riding concepts every parent should teach their children. Before any ride begins, be sure the child puts on their helmet. It’s the law in New York State for all cyclists under the age of 14 to ride with a helmet. We highly recommend them for ages 14 and up too. Also teach your child to give their bike a quick look-over before getting on. Kids become quite good at “ABC Quick Checks” and really enjoy that process. Be sure the bike is equipped with a bell and if riding at night, a white light in front and a red light in the rear.
Topic1 Social3 Even when cycling on sidewalks, young children should become accustomed to riding on the right hand side, which will prepare them for street riding alongside traffic later. If your child is unsure between their left and right hands, consider writing an R on their right hand that is clearly visible when their hands are on the handlebars.

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Children should be taught from an early age that the faster the vehicle, the more care must be taken for everyone’s safety. This is why faster sidewalk users like cyclists have to yield to pedestrians. As your child rides on the sidewalk, they’ll encounter all sorts of other people: walkers, joggers, dog walkers, wheelchair users, etc. Those people have the “right of way” on the sidewalk; in other words, they don’t have to get out of the cyclist’s way. Cyclists, even young ones, should learn to pass pedestrians courteously when an opportunity arises. Be sure to alert the pedestrian in a polite manner, such as saying “Passing on your left” beforehand and thanking them when alongside before returning to the right. Ringing bells without these verbal cues can be construed as “Get out of my way!” which isn’t what we’re aiming for.

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Even though sidewalks are safer for youngsters than riding in the street, sidewalks aren’t devoid of dangerous situations. This primarily comes from motorists backing out of their driveways. Drivers should be cautious when coming out of their driveways and yield to all traffic coming by, including pedestrians and cyclists on the sidewalk. But young kids riding alone and low to the ground can be difficult to see. For this reason, every child should learn to listen for the sound of engines and to take a good look at every driveway to make sure the way is clear before proceeding. Ringing that bell helps too. Though children often enjoy riding fast, they shouldn’t ride so fast that they’re not able to stop if they have to. It might be appropriate to teach your child to stop at each driveway for their safety.
Topic1 Social5 Sidewalk riders of all ages must obey traffic signs and signals. So when the child comes to a stop sign, or any intersection at this age, they need to stop completely, look left, right, and left again, making sure the way is clear before proceeding. For young kids, it’s much safer and good practice for them to walk their bike across the intersection. Some municipalities require walking bikes through crosswalks. Once they’re on the other side, they can resume their sidewalk riding.
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By sticking with these concepts, your child will learn the basics of traffic flow and sharing the right of way with other users. The same concepts apply when riding our state’s marvelous trails.

Before you allow your child to ride alone on the street, make sure they:

  • are old enough under local law
  • are mature enough to understand the dangers and their responsibilities
  • can ride in a straight line
  • can maintain alertness for longer periods
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