By Zach Spicer | The Tribune
Under an old transportation highway bill, the federal government allocated noninfrastructure Safe Routes to School funding to each state.
The funding had to be obligated to such items as bike helmets, bike programs and planning-type activities for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Kathy Eaton-McKalip, local programs director for the Indiana Department of Transportation, worked with the Federal Highway Administration to establish a program to provide bike helmets to young children.
That led to the statewide rollout of the Bike IN Safe program to ensure every first and second grade student in Indiana who needs a bike helmet has one.
“Indiana has seen an increase in bicycle fatalities. Learning bicycle safety and the use of helmets can help ensure a lifetime of safe bicycle riding,” Eaton-McKalip said. “One of the biggest risks from bicycle incidents is permanent brain injury. Wearing a helmet the right way greatly lessens a child’s chance of having a brain injury. With more biking trails being built in Indiana, it is important to teach these young children the rules of riding.”
Annie Walker, communications director for the INDOT Seymour District, said the agency cares greatly for the safety of the motoring and traveling public.
“Part of that initiative starts with the safety of our younger generations,” she said. “The Bike IN Safe program is a way for elementary schools to partner with INDOT to help make bike safety information and gear available for students. We
are providing the knowledge and gear kids need to ride safely, whether they’re on bike trails, city streets or beyond.”
The Seymour District piloted the program in the spring of 2021 and presented at four schools: Sand Creek Elementary, Brush Creek Elementary, Deputy Elementary and Immanuel Lutheran.
The program was officially rolled out statewide through the Board of Education at the end of April this year, and programs were conducted at eight schools in May: Silver Creek Elementary, Needham Elementary, Columbus Christian, New Middletown Elementary, Crothersville Elementary, Union Elementary, Corydon Elementary and Creekside Elementary.
“I absolutely love getting the students excited, seeing them actively participate and involved in the programming, especially knowing that the impression we make will help keep them safe,” Walker said.
During the presentations, discussion revolves around how to properly wear a helmet, rules of the road, how to avoid distractions, what to wear and general bike safety tips.
“We love involving the students by showing them how to wear a helmet properly, get them to actively participate by doing fun activities in order to help them learn and remember what they learned and have the students help the presenter get ready/prepared for a bike ride to put their new knowledge to the test,” Walker said.
Students receive a helmet, a drawstring bag, an activity packet and stickers.
“We hope that the students understand the true importance of wearing a helmet, whether riding a bike, skateboard, scooter, etc.,” Walker said. “It is much easier to fix a bump or scrape, but if you are not protecting your brain, that can be a lot harder to fix and walk away from. By providing free helmets and the knowledge to stay safe, we strive to keep more kids out there safer than they were before.”
So why target first- and second-graders?
“Children this age are learning to be more independent and ride bikes on their own,” Walker said. “If we can make a positive impression early on, our hope is that this will lead to safer decisions throughout the future.”
While she usually presented the programs, Walker said she couldn’t do it without the help of a great team.
The communications team employees along with Walker are Alisa Sweazy, Jackie Blevins, Melissa Graves and Natalie Garrett.
“The INDOT Seymour District communications team as well as other employees through the Seymour District work very hard to prepare the safety kits and assist in the deliveries and presentations,” she said. “The feedback from schools has been very positive. The program is a fun, interactive and educational way to learn about bike safety, and the students seem to be engaged and truly enjoy the programs.”
Eaton-McKalip said funding for this program came from the Transportation Alternatives Program under the SAFETEA-LU federal transportation highway bill. INDOT is the pass-through agency for federal highway transportation dollars, she said.
Walker said the website bikesafeindiana.com is active, and INDOT is scheduling Bike IN Safe programs for the 2022-23 school year.
“Schools can request to schedule a bike safety event where an INDOT representative will come to your school to help teach your first- and second-graders about bike safety and distribute free helmets and other safety gear or schools have the option to just request free safety gear where INDOT will ship the bike helmets and other safety gear to their school for them to distribute to the students,” she said.
Also, the Seymour District will be distributing free bike helmets at the Seymour Parks and Recreation Department’s End of Summer Escape from 10 a.m. to noon July 29 at Shields Park.