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Your child — wearing a helmet — can ride in a bike trailer (those little carts with wheels that you pull behind your bicycle) starting no sooner than 12 months old. "Before you put your child in a bike trailer, she must be able to sit up steadily, and she needs to have a helmet that fits properly," says Howard Reinstein, a pediatrician in Encino, California, and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
The League of American Bicyclists warns that a rear-mounted bicycle seat (the kind that attaches to your bicycle right behind your seat) make the bike less stable. When you get off the bicycle, the weight of the carrier and your child can cause the bike — and your young child — to topple over.
Bike trailers may be more expensive than rear-mounted bike seats, but they're safer. They can also be used to carry groceries and other cargo when your child is not with you, and they have a higher resale value, according to the League of American Bicyclists. You can safely load your little one into a trailer by yourself, but to put her in a bike seat safely takes two people (one holding the bike, the other holding the child).
When you purchase a trailer, the League recommends that you look for one that has a ball and socket joint where the bike and trailer meet — this prevents the trailer from tipping over if the bike does. The trailer should also have three- or five-point harness seatbelts. Before every ride make sure to strap your child in securely.
When you choose a helmet for your child, look for a label that says it meets Snell, ANSI, or CPSC safety requirements. The League of American Bicyclists also suggests that you bring your child into a specialty bike shop where a salesperson can help you find a helmet that fits properly. The helmet should fit snugly, meaning it shouldn't rock back and forth or side to side. The straps should be adjustable so that you can tighten them under your child's chin (never leave the helmet straps open or loose). If you can twist or pull the helmet in any direction and it comes off your little one's head or the buckle loosens, the helmet won't be effective protection in an accident.
Make sure your child knows that your policy is "no helmet, no bike ride" — and prove the rule by following it yourself. Wearing a helmet can protect you and your kids from serious injuries.