Traffic Safety Training: Walking and Bicycling Programs

Youth Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Education Curriculum

Local Models and State Recommendations

Background

Children have been walking and bicycling to school since the concept of school was invented. As Safe Routes to School programs become established, more children get to school under their own power and need bicycle and pedestrian safety education to help make the trip safer and more appealing to their parents and community members.

A comprehensive Safe Routes to School program should include bicycle and pedestrian safety education curriculum, structured for appropriate grade and age levels, which can be implemented as part of a school-wide, communitywide, or statewide program. Pedestrian safety courses or programs will be most effective with K-3rd grades, and bicycle safety courses or programs will be most effective with 4-8th grades.

There are many examples of safety education curriculums currently in use in the US. Some are brief overviews such as a bicycle or traffic safety rodeo, or a class or school assembly, or a part of a ‘Safety Town’ course. Others are more intensive, providing in-depth instruction and practice sessions. The most effective curriculums are the latter, since the level of knowledge and skills needed to truly improve the ability of a child to negotiate traffic is much greater than a brief rodeo or assembly can offer. Comprehensive curriculums can sometimes be too costly for some schools and communities, so a bicycle rodeo or assembly may be an affordable solution to introduce curriculum concepts until other funds are available. Another challenge is that some schools are not willing to dedicate in-class time for bicycle or pedestrian safety classes; however, many schools have done this successfully through physical education programs, and a focus on bicycle and pedestrian safety curriculum can help to meet wellness policy requirements.


Good Policies

Good bicycle or pedestrian safety curriculums should include at least the following basics:

  • how to cross the street safely –stop, look and listen
  • basic bike and helmet fitting – especially important for parents
  • how to position yourself properly on the road – the three positions
  • how to let drivers know your intentions – be predictable
  • how to safely negotiate turns and intersections – hand signals, signs, traffic awareness
  • the basics of traffic law – right of way and rules of the road
  • skills practice – 3-6 adult-led hours on a bike; one hour walking in a neighborhood

Children should generally only be allowed to negotiate automobile traffic alone when they are around ten years old, since there are developmental barriers up to that point. Parents or older youth should accompany children younger than ten. But ultimately parents must judge a child’s readiness themselves. For this reason, parents should themselves receive bicycle and pedestrian education materials or instruction, since many do not routinely travel by bicycle or on foot and may not understand what is needed for their child to be a safe pedestrian or bicyclist in traffic.

A bicycle or pedestrian safety rodeo or assembly is a one-time or annual safety event designed to engage and entertain children while providing safety skills and knowledge, and should include:

  • Safety skills course marked with chalk or traffic cones, expert leaders and a spectator area
  • Helmet-fitting lessons; videos or lectures on safe biking and walking behavior
  • Games, skills challenges, raffles and other activities.

Examples

Walk Boston (Boston, Massachusetts; walkboston.org)
The 15 Safe Routes to Schools lesson plans teach students how walking is good for their bodies and the environment, and to connect walking, health and the environment. The lesson plans are for Kindergarten - Grade 5 students, and provide lessons in Health, Math, Social Studies and Science / Technology.

Texas Bicycle Coalition (Austin, Texas; biketexas.org)
Supercyclist Curriculum - this fifteen-lesson Teacher’s Guide contains more than 200 pages. Each lesson lasts approximately one hour, with 30 minutes devoted to bicycle-focused academic/classroom activities and 30 minutes devoted to physical activities that improve strength, balance, and flexibility.

League of American Bicyclists (Washington D.C.; bikeleague.org)
Kids I - Designed for parents, instructors explain how to teach a child to ride a bike. Topics include how to perform a bicycle safety check, helmet fitting and bike sizing. Includes 10-minute ’Kids Eye View’ video and parent brochure. Kids II - 7-hour class for 5th & 6th graders includes on-bike skills and safe riding routes.

Bicycle Transportation Alliance (Portland, Oregon; bta4bikes.org)
To be taught by expert cyclists, this ten-hour curriculum includes four hours of in-class and six hours of on-the-bike instruction. This curriculum is in use in many communities around the US. The BTA also offers a pedestrian safety curriculum.

Marin County Safe Routes to Schools (Marin County, California; saferoutestoschools.org)
This website features lesson plans for safety, fitness and the environment, and covers curriculum for grades 2 through 10, including many lessons for middle school.


Resources