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When it comes to kids and bicycles two statistics stand out - and they don't paint a cheerful picture.

- Bicycle accidents account for more emergency room visits by youngsters under 15 than roller-skate and skateboard mishaps combined.- About half of all deaths related to bicycle injuries occur in children and adolescents, most between 5 and 19 years of age. The majority of these fatalities are caused by head trauma.

But it doesn't have to be this way. Parents can help prevent injuries by ensuring that their young cyclists wear helmets, learn the rules of the road and follow safe riding practices.

The use of a helmet is an essential part of bike safety, and it's important that parents know what to look for in this type of gear.

When selecting a helmet, the first thing to look for is the approval sticker of either the American National Standards Institute or the Snell Memorial Foundation. These stickers mean that the helmet meets laboratory standards for absorbing severe blows.

The helmet should have a rigid outer shell that can stand up to abrasion or collision with sharp, hard objects.

It should also have an inner-shock absorbency liner that's at least 1 inch thick and made from crushable polystyrene foam. This material gives on impact and helps absorb the shock of a collision or fall.

Be sure that the chin strap is secure so the helmet will not fly off in the event of an accident. And finally, check that the helmet fits comfortably. Children and adults alike are far less likely to wear a helmet if it's uncomfortable.

Remember, it's not enough to buy your child a helmet. To be protected, your youngsters must wear the protective gear every time they go bike riding.

Parents must be vigilant in enforcing this rule. An estimate in the American Journal of Public Health states that less than 2 percent of schoolchildren who own helmets wear them when they bicycle.

Another important means of preventing bicycle accidents is teaching your child the rules of the road.

Teach youngsters to ride single file on the right side of the street near the curb. Cyclists need to ride with the flow of traffic and must be aware of other vehicles.

More than 70 percent of car-bike crashes occur at intersections. Young bicyclists need to be careful to stop and look in all directions before entering roadways.

Instruct them to use hand signals to warn motorists of turns and to yield to traffic before turning.

Visibility of bikers on the road also is a key safety concern. The sooner motorists see bikers, the more time they have to maneuver around them.

You can increase your child's visibility by attaching a fluorescent flag on a long flexible pole to the bicycle. Youngsters should also wear brightly colored clothes.

Children should ride their bikes after dark only in the event of an emergency. But if they do ride at night, the bike should be equipped with a white front-light that can be seen at least 500 feet in front of it. Reflectors also should be placed on each wheel and on the front, back and sides of the bicycle.

Parents must also instruct young people never to carry an extra passenger and keep their hands on the handlebars at all times.

Parents should make sure also that their child's bicycle is in good condition. Check the brakes and make sure that the handlebars are tight and aligned with the wheels.