Safe cycling: A guide for biking on, off base

  • Published
  • By By Tech. Sgt. Lucas Shay
  • 81st Training Wing Safety Office
Since arriving at Keesler's Wing Safety Office about a year ago, I have routinely observed a potentially fatal hazard: I rarely see people on wheels (bikes, scooters, skateboards, etc.) wearing helmets.

Now, unless they are all donning the $535 Swedish "invisible helmet" airbag style collar, they're in violation of Keesler AFBI 31-218 (Security Forces), AFI 91-207 (Safety), base housing rules, and most importantly, you are putting yourself at serious risk.

We don't live in Copenhagen, where they have designated bike lanes, city centers closed to cars, laws which provide real protection to cyclists, and decades of investment in bike infrastructure. We live in Biloxi, Mississippi, with sparse bike lanes, roads which favor cars, roads which are not maintained with bicycles in mind, and drivers who do not expect or anticipate having to share the road with cyclists.

Even if we did live in a bicyclist's utopia, I would still advocate for bicycle helmets, especially on children. Children simply lack bike handling skills and judgment. My wife's brother was riding his bike without a helmet at the age of 9. He thought it would be a good idea to go as fast as he could down a hill. He skidded on some dirt, went over the handlebars and hit his head on a curb.

He had seizures resulting from the accident until he was 18 when he had part of his brain removed at Cleveland Clinic.

Even if your child isn't a daredevil, they can be injured due to someone else's lack of judgment. While living in Germany, a little girl on her bicycle was hit by a truck and killed. I am particularly cognizant of this lesson during the summer and PCS season which brings a lot of new people and moving trucks into our neighborhoods.

Simple bicycle safety guidelines: Wear a helmet!

Children under the age of 10 should ride in a controlled environment until they develop the skills to control the bike; driveways, parking lots, and multi-use paths are great. Older kids with more control are typically capable of safely riding in quiet neighborhoods and on low-traffic streets. The safest place for bikes to operate is on the road, in the same direction as traffic.

Children under 12 can ride on sidewalks, but they must know the risks: always yield to pedestrians, watch for cars coming in and out of driveways, stop at corners of sidewalks, and always enter the street at the corner--never between parked cars. This is especially important in the off-base neighborhoods where cars line the streets. It's also a great idea to ride with your kids and model these practices. Finally, if you live in base housing, helmets are not an option, they are a requirement.

While a helmet can help prevent fatality and serious injury--such as traumatic brain injury--a helmet alone is not enough. Helmets coupled with bike safety guidelines are the best way to protect your child during the Critical Days of Summer.

Some great places to take beginning riders: The closed-off street in West Falcon by the dog park, the playgrounds - many have long sidewalks and paths, and the I-81 track on base. The Tammany Trace Rail Trail is about an hour away in Louisiana. This is a great place for families to spend a day riding on 31 miles of asphalted trail with great scenery and interesting stops along the way.

As the old saying goes: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Let's take the necessary steps to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. The Air Force's Critical Days of Summer campaign ends on the 2nd of September; with a little preparation, we can prevent injuries that could linger long after.

For more information on bicycle safety, contact the 81st Training Wing Safety Office at 228-377-7032 or