In May, a 7-month-old boy strapped to his mother’s back died in Kokubunji, western Tokyo, after their bicycle was knocked down in a collision with a car.
The accident underscores the importance of proper equipment and safety precautions when carrying a child on a bicycle, which compromises balance.
A 34-year-old company employee in Tokyo takes her 3-year-old son to and from a nursery school on a power-assisted bicycle. She makes her son wear a helmet and secures him in his seat with a seat belt.
“I try not to go too fast because I’m afraid the bicycle will become unsteady,” she said. The bicycle itself weighs about 30 kilograms, and the total weight exceeds 100 kilograms with the mother and son on it. The mother also said that she avoids riding on narrow streets with heavy traffic, fearing she may collide with a car if the bike becomes unsteady.
Seventy-nine percent of homemakers who responded to a 2014 survey conducted by a bicycle safety committee said they felt dangerous while they were riding a normal bicycle with a child on the backseat, and 74 percent said they felt so while riding a power-assisted bicycle with a child. The survey sought the opinions of 1,200 homemakers in their 20s to 40s.
In the May accident in Kokubunji, the bicycle collided with a car coming from the left after the mother tried to cross the oncoming lane to get around stalled traffic. Although there was no pedestrian crossing at the accident site, there was one with a traffic signal several dozen meters away.
Eisaku Tanaka, a member of general incorporated foundation, the Bicycling Popularization Association of Japan, said, “We want bicycle riders to keep safety in mind and cross streets at a pedestrian crossing with a traffic signal, after confirming safety on both sides.”
Riding a bicycle carrying a child requires more attention than usual. Riding double on a bicycle is allowed on the condition that the driver is at least 16 years old and the passenger is younger than 6 and in a child seat.
A revision of the Road Traffic Law in 2008 requires that guardians make an effort to ensure that children younger than 13 wear a helmet.
It is important to choose a properly fitting helmet with the SG (safe goods) mark, which certifies that the helmet meets safety standards for shock absorption.
An official in charge at OGK Kabuto Co., a helmet maker in Higashi-Osaka, Osaka Prefecture, stressed the importance of choosing a helmet of the proper size. “If a helmet is too big for a child, damage to the head can be exacerbated if it receives a shock,” the official said. To prevent a helmet from coming off, a chin strap should be tightened until it is difficult to insert a finger under the strap, the official said.
As helmets are made for children aged 1 or older, it is difficult to put a helmet on younger children. Although it is legal to carry an infant piggyback on a bicycle, doing so makes maintaining balance more difficult. “As the center of gravity becomes higher, the driver is more likely to lose balance,” Tanaka said.
Even more caution than usual is required in such situations because the child’s head without a helmet is vulnerable if the bicycle falls over.
Therefore, it is advisable to adjust the height of the saddle so the rider’s feet can easily touch the ground if the bicycle must suddenly stop. And small wheels will lower the position of a child on the backseat and reduce the resulting impact on the child.
Maki Kitakata, who represents Wa-Life Labo, an organization providing classes for safe parent-child bicycle riding, said: “Please don’t forget that a bicycle is a dangerous vehicle that can harm people. Mothers preoccupied by housework, child rearing and work may become irritated by their children’s behavior and lose sight of the necessity of confirming safety. I hope mothers will remain aware of their responsibility to control their impatience so they can protect their children’s lives.”
Safe bicycle riding
(Based on talks given by Eisaku Tanaka and Maki Kitakata)
— Avoid crossing roads at locations without pedestrian crossings.
— Come to a complete stop at crossings and confirm safety on both sides of the road by leaning forward.
— Avoid riding on busy streets and riding too fast.
— Avoid riding on rainy days as much as possible. If you must ride on a rainy day, wear a rain coat and do not try to hold an umbrella. Avoid riding over manhole covers and braille blocks, as they become slippery.