Play safely to take full advantage of summer in Maine

Living in Maine, summer is the season we embrace!

Quaint towns come alive again after a long cold winter, and we prepare for our share of active adventures in Vacationland.

Engaging in physical activity on a daily basis is important for people of all ages despite the season, but there is no denying that summer offers an abundance of opportunities to get outside and get active.

Access Health and the Sagadahoc County Board of Health want to remind you that June is National Safety Month, an ideal time to refresh safety practices that will help you play safe and healthy all summer long.

In an effort to be healthier, many people fit more movement into their day by walking and biking during the summer months. The Midcoast region consists of many rural communities, often interconnected by a network of back roads. This infrastructure may not always be the most accommodating to the influx of multiple-users present on the roadways.

In response, many local towns are exploring ways to make streets safer for all users. For instance, Bath and Brunswick are seeking “transportation enhancement” funding to implement projects that will create more bike and pedestrian friendly communities.

We applaud all local communities that are making changes that support healthy choices such as walking and biking.

Creating safer habitats for bicyclists and pedestrians also changes the environment for drivers, homes and businesses along the improved roadways. For this reason, it is important that proper education and awareness be part of the process when implementing these improvements.

An important part of successful change is to listen and respond to community concerns. This ensures that users, motorists and community members will embrace and benefit from these opportunities.

Safety is also a personal responsibility. The Maine Safe Routes to School Program, Bicycle Coalition of Maine, National Safety Council, and the Federal Highway Administration offer several recommendations for pedestrians, bikers, and drivers to share the road:

— Pedestrians: If there is no sidewalk, always walk on the left facing the flow of traffic so that you can see and be seen by drivers. Try to be at least five feet off the road if possible.

Make eye contact with drivers to help ensure that you are seen. Look, listen and be aware of what is going on around you from all directions.

Do not cross the road on a corner and listen when rounding corners for oncoming traffic. Wear bright reflective clothing and carry a flashlight if walking at night.

— Bikers: Always wear a helmet and use the eyes, ears, and mouth test to make sure it is fitted properly.

You should see the very edge of the helmet when you look up past your eyebrows. The straps should meet right under your ear lobes to form a Y.

The strap should be loose enough to insert a finger between the buckle and your skin, but tight enough that if you drop your jaw you can feel the helmet pull down on the top of your head.

Always ride on the right with the flow of traffic. Make sure your bike is safe and inspect all parts and tires for air.

Dress bright and tight — bright clothing makes you more visible and tight clothing is less likely to get caught in chains or tire spokes. Tuck away shoelaces and cords.

Never wear headphones — you need to hear what is happening around you. Obey traffic signs, just as a car would and use proper hand signals when turning.

— Drivers: Share the road. It is Maine state law that drivers give bicyclists a 3-foot clearance of roadway.

Do not use a horn as it may startle bikers or walkers.

Wait to pass a bicyclist until it is safe, taking extra caution on roads with no paved shoulders. Always slow down around corners, taking precautions for oncoming pedestrians or bicycles sharing the road.

Expect the unexpected — always look both ways and behind before pulling out of driveways and parking lots.

Finally, avoid distracted driving, such as texting and using mobile phones.

Parents, remember to model appropriate and safe behavior for your little ones. Instilling these recommendations as early as possible will set your child up for a lifetime of safe habits. As a community, we can all do our part to encourage safe and healthy practices while engaging in summer fun.

For more local and national resources that support safe and healthy physical activity visit, the Healthy Maine Partnership for Sagadahoc County, Brunswick and Harpswell.

REBECCA FARNHAM is a prevention specialist focusing on physical activity and nutrition for Access Health.

Commentary published in The Times Record, Friday, June 8, 2012