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Young kids on bikes can pose a danger to themselves and others

Shortly after 8 p.m. on Aug. 6, I was walking on Center Street in East Quincy, when a little girl on a bicycle hit me from behind. Since I don’t have eyes in the back of my head, I didn’t see her coming and couldn’t get out of the way. I confess to being old; but, fortunately, I’m not frail.

So, although I stumbled, I didn’t fall down. The collision did, however, cause some bad cuts, severe bruising, and scrapes to the back of my right leg. I suggested to the little girl that she tell her parents she is not yet ready to ride a bike on the street, and then I limped home.

The bruising is deep, my leg is purple, and there is some swelling. All of that, plus the cuts and scrapes, will heal in time. But I have serious concerns about how many really young kids ride bikes and scooters and drive battery-powered toy cars on the streets of E. Quincy. I walk frequently, so I’ve noticed them many times; but, until one of them plowed into me, I hadn’t thought much about how they put themselves and others in danger.

I can’t imagine why the little girl didn’t see me. I’m 5-foot 6-inches tall, and my rear end takes up a fair amount of real estate. It wasn’t that dark yet. The most likely explanation is that she simply wasn’t paying attention or watching where she was going. Or maybe she hasn’t been riding long enough to be able to exercise good control of her bike. There was a woman riding on the other side of the street, with a couple of other kids. I asked her if she was the little girl’s mom and she said no. So I assume that the little girl was riding unsupervised.

I worry that, if she had slammed into an elderly person who was small or fragile, she would have knocked that person down, possibly breaking bones. I’m certain that, if she had struck a small child, the child would have gone tail over teakettle. Furthermore, it occurs to me that any child who could run into a person could just as easily run into a car or ride in front of one. Drivers often are distracted too. All it takes to create a potentially bad accident is one driver who isn’t paying attention and one bike rider who isn’t looking where he or she is going.

I have seen some really young kids riding … usually erratically. But I’m not sure there is any “magic” age at which a child can be declared “safe” to be turned loose on the streets, unsupervised, on a bicycle or scooter. It probably has more to do with maturity, coordination and adequate training and instruction than it does with chronology. Another consideration is that, when young kids ride in groups, they are all over the road, and their attention usually is focused on their friends, which is a major distraction.

I hope this letter will make parents stop and think about their child’s readiness to ride without supervision. I suggest you accompany your child until you are confident that he or she can physically control the bike or scooter while still paying attention to the surroundings: cars, pedestrians, and other riders. If your child insists on riding with a large group, insist that an adult ride along. Give your child a curfew to make sure he or she is home well before dark; dusk can compromise visibility. And, if you have any reservations at all, please err on the side of caution.

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