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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Baby On Board Risks

Nov. 10, 2016

Researchers are examining the risks of transporting young children on bikes, so that they can better inform parents on how to ride safely.

Many people in Japan use bicycles for transportation, including parents with young kids. One mother of 3 rides her bicycle to a daycare center. She used to make the 2-kilometer trip with her 6-month-old daughter strapped to her back but now she uses a child seat instead.

"I thought it was dangerous, but I would do it anyway when I was in a rush. I started worrying about getting into an accident, and so stopped carrying my daughter," she says.

In May, a woman riding a bicycle in Tokyo slammed into a car and fell to the ground. She was carrying her 7-month-old son on her back. He hit his head and later died.

In order to get an idea of the scale of the problem, the Consumer Affairs Agency contacted 30 clinics and hospitals across Japan. They reported a total of 41 cases of young children injured while on their parents' bicycles in the past 5 years.

Nine of those cases involved children before the first birthday with fractured skulls, brain contusions or other serious injuries. At the time of the accidents, most of the children were being held by their parents. Experts believe that these cases are just the tip of the iceberg.

Many municipalities prohibit bicycle riders from holding babies but they are allowed to firmly secure them to their backs. Up to 2 children can ride on 1 bicycle. But few people know these rules and when a bicycle falls to the ground, a baby on board can be exposed to a strong impact.

Pediatricians joined other researchers to find out just what the effects can be. They used a test dummy based on a 6-month-old. The experiment found that a baby being carried on the back of an adult who falls off a bicycle is exposed to extreme force -- from 800 to 1,000 kilograms.

The impact to babies being held at the time of the accident was somewhat lower--from 700 to 900 kilograms. But the figures are still over 16 times the amount needed to fracture a baby's skull.

"An impact of nearly one ton is expected to lead to severe injuries. I want parents to be aware of the risks posed by carrying children on their bikes," says Dr. Tatsuhiro Yamanaka, a pediatrician.


Momo Yamamuro, from NHK’s Science and Culture Department, joins anchor Aki Shibuya in the studio.

Shibuya: This research shows that babies-on-board can be dangerous.

Yamamuro: The data shows that it’s even more serious and risky than I imagined. I myself am a mother of 2, and have taken the children on my bike with me. But you can't put a helmet on a baby because it puts too much strain on their neck. Still, a mother can't leave her baby behind.

Shibuya: So what is the best way to carry a baby on a bike?

Yamamuro: In Europe, for example, you can buy 3-wheeled bicycles with seat attachments for a baby, which are much safer. A spokesperson for the group that carried out the new research said that in Japan we need to develop a safer bicycle so that we can protect babies from accidents.

Shibuya: So we can't leave this just up to the parents.

Yamamuro: This problem is not just one for parents. It needs the attention of many others, beginning with the government and bicycle manufacturers.