Constable Peter De Quintal remembers police officers visiting his grade school to teach him bike safety and learning about the rules of the road.
He is now continuing the tradition of keeping kids safe on city streets with a series of bike rodeos at schools in 12 Division.
In the second year of the program, he has managed to get seven schools on board, corporate donations of free helmets for one school, First Aid kits from the Canadian Automobile Association, bells from the City of Toronto and lots of fourth- and fifth-graders who now know of bicycle safety.
“Toronto is becoming a bike-friendly city, so we want to encourage safe cycling,” said De Quintal, as he conducted a bike rodeo at Saint Matthew Catholic School.
There are five main things to know when riding your bike, says De Quintal.
- Use your arm signals to indicate when you are turning or stopping
- Always wear a helmet when riding your bike
- Remember to the ABCs on your bicycle – Air, Brake and Chain (Check that your tires are inflated, brakes and chain are working)
- When you ride at night, wear reflective clothing or have a light on
- Keep a bell on your bicycle so that you can warn people in case they don’t see you
Other than these essential tips, the Bike Rodeo itself, through a series of obstacle courses, teaches nine-, ten- and eleven-year-olds to react in a proper manner, learn good balance, brake properly, stop in tight spaces, control turning and scan the road ahead for traffic and other obstacles.
With six stations set up, each child must go through six obstacles. Each station is also staffed by a constable or an auxiliary officer and volunteer high school students to assist and direct the child, explains De Quintal.
De Quintal said the last exercise – the turtle crawl – is one of the best ways to teach kids.
“The turtle crawl is about control and stability and on maintaining balance,” said De Quintal.
The crawl teaches the fundamentals of cycling and adds a little fun to the day – the last person to cross the finish line wins. And it’s not easy. Half the Community Response Unit officers and most of the children were unable to pace themselves and balance their bicycles to finish the race.
Christine Hunter, the Vice Principal at St. Matthew Catholic School, thought the idea of teaching students bicycle safety was fantastic.
“Kids need to know safety and hopefully they’ll cycle more often,” said Hunter, an avid cyclist herself.
She said a few children said they want to be police officers, after mingling with constables from 12 Division.
For Auxiliary Officer Ana Abreu, who volunteered to attend the Bike Rodeo, the interaction with the children was something she enjoyed but, most of all, she also ended up learning arm signals.
“I’m learning along with them!” said Abreu, who hopes to join the Service one day. “It puts a face to the Service, makes us more friendly and approachable to the children.”