Is It Safe to Tote a Tyke on Your Bike?

According to an article in the April issue of Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, less children are hurt in trailers for bicycles than in child-mounted seats.

“But before trailers can be recommended to child seats over them, more surveillance is required,” said Elizabeth Powell, MD. She is an emergency medicine specialist at Children’s Memorial Hospital as well as assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University School of Medicine in Chicago. Powell reviewed data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (NEISS), from 1990 to 1998. NEISS uses reports from emergency rooms across the country to estimate national patterns of product-related injuries.

NEISS estimates that there were 320 bicycle-towed trailer injuries, compared to the 2,000 injuries caused by child-mounted bike seats. Most injuries to trailers were caused by scrapes and bruises to head and faces. This accounts for 80% and 45% respectively. Another 40% of mount seat injuries were caused by fractures and foot trauma. The safety of the devices was not significantly different when cars were involved in accidents. However, the authors caution against interpreting the data. Powell notes that we had to search partially with keywords because the product codes for bicycle-towed trailers are not available. Therefore, some injuries might not have been found.

Others agree that there are many lucky saves for every injury. Angela Mickalide (PhD), program director for the National Safe Kids Campaign, and author of Cycle Smart, says that NEISS can do a decent job of estimating injuries but cannot possibly project all of the near misses. Mickalide informs WebMD that guidelines are being developed by the American Society of Testing Materials for wheel weight, width and wheel size in order to improve the stability of bicycle-towed trailers. Cycle Smart has several safety tips.

Children aged 1 to 4 should not use bicycle-towed trailers. The weight limit for single-passenger units is 50 to 70 pounds. Two-passenger models are limited to 100 pounds. Children must always wear a belt and keep their feet and hands inside. To improve visibility, attachable flags can also be used. Children should always use a helmet, regardless of whether they are riding in a trailer or child seat. Powell adds that children younger than 12 months old don’t have enough neck strength to support helmets and shouldn’t cycle. Older children should always have a helmet that covers their forehead and fits snugly. If you live in an area with bike paths, use them!

Another perspective is offered by the editor of this journal. Catherine DeAngelis MD, professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, says that walking with your children is safer than biking. You can even talk while you walk!

Important Information

  • Bicycle-towed trailers are less dangerous than child-mounted seats. However, it is possible to make a recommendation if there is more information.
  • Six times as many injuries are associated with child-mounted bikes seats. Most of these are scrapes and bruises to head and faces, fractures, foot trauma, and other minor injuries.
  • The bicycle-towed trailers can be used by one or two people between the ages 1 and 4. They are designed for a maximum of 100 lbs of total body weight. Safety is enhanced by attachable flags and seat belts.
  • All cyclists should use bike paths and helmets.

Updated 01/24/22