22 years ago I was hit by a car while I was riding my bike. Of course my parents had put me through the Safety City offered by the Yankton Police Department and I was taught proper safety for riding a bike but when you’re young, wearing a helmet is so “lame.” So I didn’t wear one at the time. I was living elsewhere at the time and was racing to bring my sister her library card. The sun was setting and neither the driver nor myself saw the other. Still to this day I don’t remember much (this is why we wear helmets!). I remember the moment I saw the van and then it’s nothing. I go from that moment to waking up on the opposite curb (I was hit in the middle of the street), crying. The police officer was already there and had been attempting to talk to me. The driver, a teenager, was standing nearby, also crying. We were both telling each other how sorry we were. I learned later that it was just the motion of the van stopping that hit me but it was still forceful enough to make my bike unusable. I had a mild concussion and still, 22 years later, I have a bump on my head. So when the opportunity came up to write about Bike Safety Month I felt there was no one better than someone who has experienced a bicycle-related accident.

May is Bike Safety Month which was started by the League of American Bicyclists. It was established in 1956 to showcase the many benefits of bicycling and to encourage safe riding. Not only is it Bike Safety Month, but there is a National Bike to Work Week which takes place this year from May 15 to May 19. And then there is Bike to Work Day on May 19 this year. It’s the perfect time as the kids are getting out of school, the weather is getting nicer; and what is better than a nice bike ride at sunset?

But bike riding can also be dangerous if the proper precautions aren’t taken. According to a report from the SD Motor Vehicle Traffic Crash Summary, there were 105 injuries and 1 death involving bicycles in South Dakota in 2003, alone. In the United States each year, there are an average of 900 bicycle-related deaths. Every week 2700 children suffer serious head injuries. However, research shows that a properly-worn bike helmet can reduce the risk of serious head injuries by 88 percent. To combat some of these numbers, groups and businesses around Yankton are trying to promote more accessible bike safety knowledge to the youth, but also to adults. There are a few programs in Yankton that promote Bike Safety. Such as Safety City offered by the Yankton Police Department and the Bike Helmet program that is sponsored by Yankton Rotary, Yankton Medical Clinic, and Ace Bike and Sport.

Safety City used to be Safety Town but the name had to be changed due to a conflict of copyrights. The Yankton Police Department offers this program during the summer through the Yankton Parks & Recreation. It is usually June and July. Safety City helps teach children life-saving lessons which includes bike safety. The Yankton Police Department also pair up with the Bike Helmet program and offer a certificate for a free ice cream from McDonald’s if they see kids wearing their helmets this summer.

Kerry Hacecky and Natashia Moser talked to me about the Bike Helmet program that is offered because of a partnership between Yankton Rotary, Yankton Medical Clinic, and Ace Bike and Sport. This program helps give every second grader in Yankton a bike helmet at no charge. It is a one-hour event at Yankton High School where the second graders learn about safety and helmet use and then get fitted for a bike helmet. There is some watermelon smashing and a video. Their goal is to have kids leave excited about wearing the new helmet. The Yankton Rotary has been financially supporting this program since its inception in 1999. The program started in 1995. At that time, Yankton pediatrician Dr. Rich Kaplan was an avid cyclist and believed it would be good to encourage cycling and safety. Rotarian Craig Kennedy and Kaplan often biked with their children together and the partnership with the Rotary and the Yankton Medical Clinic was formed. Today, Dr. Withrow represents YMC and provides a brief and entertaining program to the youth before the new helmets are distributed. Each helmet is fit to the child to make sure it’s the proper one for their head.

Spreading more awareness towards bike safety is Matt Dvorak from Peloton. Matt urges proper bike safety and writes a bike safety letter before every summer begins. Matt has been a bicyclist since he was 5 and has experienced several incidences of senseless “road rage” while riding his bike and has heard too many stories of unfortunate injuries and deaths of bicyclists. “The car always wins in these cases and it doesn’t matter who is right or wrong.” Because of this Matt would like to see bicyclists and drivers share the public roadways in South Dakota and Nebraska. “I would like to help increase awareness of bicyclists on the roadways, and make drivers of automobiles more aware of their rights. South Dakota and Nebraska roadways should have no injuries/fatalities if both drivers and cyclists respect each other and follow the rules.” One law that Matt told me about just passed in 2015 and aims to further reduce the number of accidents between motorists and cyclists. Motorists across the state must now provide cyclists with a 3 foot “cushion” of space when passing at speed limits of 35 mph, and a 6 foot cushion at speed limits greater than 35 mph. Matt urges proper bike safety protocols and to know the laws as both a bicyclist and a motorist. “I would like to see the City/County of Yankton, and State of South Dakota and Nebraska continue to add more cycling trails, routes, and safety awareness opportunities so that more people of all ages can enjoy the exercise and transportation benefits of cycling.”

With long, beautiful summer nights just around the corner, here are some helpful tips to make sure you and your loved ones are practicing the proper protocols for bike safety. Speaking from experience, it’s better to look “lame” with the bike helmet than to be in a bike accident without one.

• Bicycles are vehicles with the same rights, rules and responsibilities as other road users; always share the road.

• On every ride, wear a helmet that meets federal safety standards issued by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. To determine the correct helmet size, measure the rider’s head with a tape measure.

• Adjust the helmet pads and straps so the fit is snug and level. The helmet should be worn 1-2 finger widths above the head, not tilted back on the crown or pulled low over the forehead.

• If a helmet has been dropped hard or been in a crash, replace it.

• Make sure the bicycle is the right size. When sitting on theseat with hands on the handlebar, the rider should be able to place the ball of each foot on the ground.

• Check for traffic and be aware of the traffic around you. Over 70 percent of car-bicycle crashes occur at driveways or other intersections. Before riding into traffic: stop, look left, right, left again, and over your shoulder.

• Ride single file in the same direction as other traffic and always use hand signals.

• Wear bright clothes to be visible and avoid biking at night.

• Adults and parents should be good role models and wear helmets too.