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Helmets, advice handed out at bicycle safety event

Charlie Short, city of Chicago bike ambassador, helped kids find the right helmet for them at Tuesday's helmet giveaway. | Natalie Watts/Sun-Times

It’s official: if you’re riding a bike, don’t play Pokemon Go.

At a children’s bike safety event on Tuesday at Ekhart Park, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White cautioned that it’s just as unsafe to use a cellphone on a bike as it is to do it while driving.

Several kids in the audience of dozens reflexively fidgeted with their phones at the warning.

But the most important precaution bicyclists can take to stay safe is to wear a helmet, White said.

According to his statistics, 743 bicyclists were killed nationwide in 2013. The most common cause of death was head injury.

To promote safe biking, Kohl’s Cares, a children’s health initiative, and the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital donated helmets to be distributed at the event. White and members of the Chicago Police Department handed out helmets while volunteers adjusted them to fit each child.

“My old ones just keep getting smaller,” one boy said while his new helmet was adjusted.

The rider should be able to see ands move their mouth, and must have the straps secured around the ears, said Charlie Short, a city of Chicago bicycle ambassador.

Verlander Thompkins III rode around the park on his scooter. Verlander, 9, said he couldn’t ride a bike yet, but wants to learn.

Park district staff helped newer riders, while the more experienced kids practiced stopping for cardboard stoplights and railroad crossings. Many brought their bikes to ride around the park.

Kids older than 12 are supposed to ride in the streets, not on sidewalks, White said. And a “Bicycle Rules of the Road” pamphlet put out by his office makes clear that on the street, bicyclists must obey the same rules as motor vehicles.

“I’ve been riding since I was 7,” said 15-year-old Mayra Recchia. Making the transition from sidewalk to street, she said, was difficult — in part because “now you have to worry about getting run over.”

Verlander Thompkins III, 9, and his 4-year-old sister Liberty came to the bicycle safety event on Tuesday.  |  Natalie Watts/Sun-Times
Verlander Thompkins III, 9, and his 4-year-old sister Liberty came to the bicycle safety event on Tuesday. | Natalie Watts/Sun-Times

After getting fitted for new helmets,  kids rode around the park to practice safe biking. | Natalie Watts/Sun-Times
After getting fitted for new helmets, kids rode around the park to practice safe biking. | Natalie Watts/Sun-Times