By TIFFANY REPECKI - Cape Coral Daily Breeze
As local children begin breaking in their new bicycles, scooters and skateboards from Christmas, the Cape Coral Fire Department reminds drivers and parents about one important element - safety.
With a spike in bicycle-versus-vehicle crashes in the Cape in 2013, motorists are urged to pay special attention to children out on their new toys, while parents should go over safety with the youth.
"The biggest concern that we see regarding bicycle safety is the fact that we have year-round weather," Michael Heeder, spokesman for the fire department, said. "Conditions that allow children to get out and ride their bikes all the time."
"We want to remind drivers, especially, that you always have to be cognizant of pedestrians and bicyclists," he said.
Many of this year's accidents involved bicyclists veering into the road or not crossing at a proper spot, like a crosswalk. They should use crosswalks and be aware that they are sharing the road with vehicles.
"A lot of smaller children are not going to be aware of approaching vehicles," Heeder noted.
Know Bicycle hand signals
Bicyclists have special hand signals to tell motorists or other riders what they are about to do, just like vehicles have turn signal lights and brake lights.
* An extended left arm means the rider is turning left.
* A raised left hand means a right turn.
* An extended left arm with the forearm pointing downward means they are about to stop.
Source: Cape Coral Fire Department
Motorists who find themselves sharing the road with a bicyclist should slow down and swing wide, allowing for at least 3 feet or 4 feet of clearance. Avoid honking at a cyclist, and always yield to them.
Drivers should check over their shoulder before moving back into a lane to ensure there is space.
As for parents, adults should know the rules of the road and children should be reminded.
Heeder explained that wearing a helmet is the No. 1 safety rule.
"If everyone would take the time to wear a helmet, that would reduce the severity of head trauma in a multitude of ways," he said.
More than 300,000 children reportedly go to the emergency room for bicycle-related injuries each year nationwide.
The helmet must fit correctly, not too snug nor too loose. The straps also must fit snugly not tightly - just enough to keep the helmet securely in place, according to Heeder.
"The same rules apply for scooters as they do for bicycles," he said, adding that skateboarders are viewed as pedestrians. "Make sure they're wearing the proper protective equipment."
Florida law states that a bicyclist who is under 16 years of age must wear a bicycle helmet that is properly fitted, is fastened securely upon their head by a strap and meets the federal safety standard for helmets. Violators can be issued a warning, or even assessed a $15 fine for a pedestrian violation.
Heeder also suggested using the proper reflectors and lighting on bicycles.
"Make sure that you're very visible to others around you and you can see in front of you," he said.
Parents should regularly do a safety check on their child's bicycle.
"Bicycles are just like any other vehicle. They need to be maintained and inspected," Heeder said.
Check the bike every few weeks for height and adjust if necessary. Feet need to be flat on the ground when standing and straddling the top bar of the bicycle. There should be 1 inch to 3 inches of space between the child's body and the top bar of the bike.
"For children, you need to make sure the bike is at the right height," he said.
Check the oil and chain, as well as the tires and brakes, to see that they are working correctly.
Parents should direct children to keep their gaze ahead to anticipate any obstacles or road hazards coming their way. Be careful with driveways and vehicles coming out of garages. Children should be taught to ride on the right side of the street and walk their bikes when crossing busy intersections.
"Use crosswalks and follow traffic signals, like any other vehicle," Heeder said.