To delineate the mechanism of serious bicycle handlebar-related injuries in children and make recommendations for preventive strategies.
Prospective cross-sectional surveillance system of seriously injured child bicyclists supplemented by in-depth, on-site crash investigation to delineate specific injury mechanisms. Interdisciplinary analyses involved engineers, clinicians, epidemiologists, and biostatisticians.
The emergency department and in-patient trauma service of an urban level one pediatric trauma center between October 1995 and September 1997.
Patients under 18 years of age who were treated for serious bicycle-related injuries (Abbreviated Injury Scale scores of 2 or greater).
The surveillance system identified two distinct circumstances for serious child bicyclist injury: 1) handlebar-related injuries associated with minor incidents (falls from bicycles) and 2) nonhandlebar-related injuries associated with severe incidents (bicycle-motor vehicle crashes). Crash investigations explored the minor incidents that resulted in serious handlebar-associated injuries. In the typical mechanism, as the child lost control of the bicycle and began to fall, the front wheel rotated into a plane perpendicular to the child's body. The child then landed on the end of the handlebar resulting in serious truncal injuries.
A discordancy exists between the apparently minor circumstances and serious injuries sustained by child bicyclists who impact bicycle handlebars. Recognition of the mechanism of handlebar-related injuries might aid the practitioner in early diagnosis of serious abdominal injuries in child bicyclists. This injury mechanism may be avoided through bicycle redesign that would involve both limiting rotation of the front wheel and modifying the ends of handlebars. An integrated approach involving a surveillance system to identify an injury hazard supplemented by in-depth, on-site crash investigations effectively provided the detailed mechanism of injury needed to develop interventions.