City Children Learn The Basics Of Bicycle Safety, Thanks To A Grant From The Community Foundation For Greater New Haven

August 22, 1997

NEW HAVEN, Conn., Aug. 22, 1997-The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven has awarded a $10,000 grant to the New Haven Regional Injury Prevention Program (NHRIPP), part of Yale University School of Medicine and department of surgery's section of emergency medicine. NHRIPP is using the grant to implement Free Wheels, a bicycle skills and road safety project developed by NHRIPP co-director Linda Degutis, Dr. P.H.

"This grant provides a great opportunity to devise new and creative ways to prevent head injuries in children," says Dr. Degutis, assistant professor of surgery at Yale University School of Medicine. "Our goal is to ensure that New Haven children learn to wear bicycle helmets as part of an overall strategy for safe bicycling."

For many New Haven children, bicycling is a primary mode of transportation and recreation. Most children learn how to ride by watching friends and adults. Unlike driver's education, there are no classes for bicycle safety education. Many children and adults do not wear bicycle helmets or ride safely. As a result, bicycle-related injury is a major cause of death in Connecticut and throughout the United States, especially among children ages 5 to 19. These injuries account for over 900 deaths, 20,000 hospital admissions and 580,000 emergency department visits nationwide each year.

To address this issue, a law requiring Connecticut children under age 12 to wear helmets when bicycling went into effect in October 1993. Despite this measure, many children continue to ride bicycles without helmets, putting themselves at risk for serious head injury.

"I've worked in the surgery department for years and seen many children come in with head injuries caused by bicycle crashes," says Dr. Degutis. "A lot of these injuries could have been prevented had the children been wearing helmets."

Dr. Degutis explored different ways to reach city children with the bicycle safety message and came up with the FreeWheels project, a two-part bicycle skills and road safety educational program aimed at getting children to wear bicycle helmets and to safely operate bicycles. During the first phase, which took place during this summer, 135 children attending New Haven summer day camps were provided with bicycle helmets and given a four-hour class on helmet usage, basic rules of the road, signaling and other cycling skills. A pre-test measured their knowledge of bicycle safety and a post-test measured what they had learned after participating in the program.

The curriculum was drawn from Effective Cycling and Basics of Bicycling, two nationally established bicycle skills and safety curricula with sections designed specifically for elementary school children by the League of American Bicyclists, and the Bicycle Federation of America. Nathan Joyner, executive director of Students United for the Rebirth of Excellence (SURE), and a certified bicycle safety instructor, taught the course with the assistance of four local teen-agers.

"It was important for the younger children participating in the program to get instruction from teens because they're looked up to as role models," says Laura L. Fawcett, NHRIPP program coordinator. "If they see older children wearing helmets, they'll begin to view helmets as a natural part of riding bicycles." Ms. Fawcett is working to complete the second phase, which includes compiling the program results and writing a report suggesting modifications to the program and further implementation. Dr. Degutis hopes to keep FreeWheels and similar programs active through continued support from donors like Friends of the Children's Hospital at Yale-New Haven and the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.

Since 1928, donors to the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven have built a permanent endowment currently valued at approximately $166 million. In 1996, the Foundation's board of directors distributed $4.9 million from more than 330 different named funds supporting grants in health, community and economic development, the arts and culture, and other vital areas.

Yale University School of Medicine

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