Parents must decide if bicycle trailers are street safe

Feb 18, 2014, 3:37 PM | Updated: Feb 19, 2014, 6:26 am
Bicycle trailers that carry children are popular on trails like the Burke-Gilman. But you might que...
Bicycle trailers that carry children are popular on trails like the Burke-Gilman. But you might question the judgement of a parent who would ride with a child on a city street. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Bicycle trailers that carry children are popular on trails like the Burke-Gilman. But you might question the judgement of a parent who would ride with a child on a city street.

Bicycle trailers are legal on the street. As for helmets, many cities don’t require bicycle helmets for children or adults. There is no statewide bicycle helmet law.

“It makes common sense to not use those on streets, particularly busy streets and probably better to use them on the Burke-Gilman trail or a bike trail,” said pediatrician Fred Rivara at the Harborview Injury Prevention Research Center. “And always have your child wear a helmet in those carriers or trailers.”

The consensus is that bicycle trailers are somewhat safer than the bicycle mounted child seats. The trailers are low-centered, more stable, enclosed and any fall is shorter than from a seat-mounted carrier.

On the risky side, trailers are wider than bicycles and take up more roadway, possibly making them more of a danger in congested areas.

And Dr. Rivara says riders should not count on bike lanes for safety.

“By just drawing a white line and putting a bicycle sign there, I don’t think that conveys any real protection to the bicyclist and particularly a bicyclist with a trailer behind them.”

Parents might be anxious to haul their little ones around in a bicycle trailer but experts agree they should wait until their children are at least 1 year old.

“Kids are able to sit up by about six months of age but oftentimes not very well for another few months after that so I think that it makes sense not to have really young children in those carriers,” Rivara said.

A salesman at a Seattle bicycle shop questioned the idea that street riding with a child in a bike trailer is a bad idea. “You have to get to the trail,” he said, adding that concerns about trailer safety are “fear mongering.”

Despite his reservations, Dr. Rivara won’t condemn bicycle trailers.

“I’ve worked here at Harborview for 30 years and I don’t recall us ever seeing a child being injured in one of those.”

Rivara also rejected the suggestion that children might be subjected to brain injury from jostling or bouncing around in a bicycle trailer. “I think that would be pretty rare,” he said.

Even if parents are not worried about injury from a crash, they should protect their kids from all the road crud and moisture that bicycle tires can throw into a trailer.

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Parents must decide if bicycle trailers are street safe