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Specialty license plate helps fund bike safety classes

Some 16,000 students will benefit from a new bike safety program rolling into Fayette County schools by early spring, thanks to money from the sale of "Share the Road" license plates.

The plan is to provide bike safety instruction for physical education teachers in all Lexington public elementary schools, said Betty White, a health and physical education teacher at Beaumont Middle School. The school system will hire certified bike safety instructors to train the school teachers, she said. The teachers then will be responsible for including bicycle safety instruction in health and physical education classes at their schools.

The program is financed by a $9,300 grant from the Kentucky Bicycle and Bikeway Commission. The money comes from the sale of "Share the Road" vanity license plates, which urge motorists to make room on roadways for runners and bicyclists.

White said instruction would include not only safe-riding rules for youngsters, but how to keep their bikes safely maintained and how to properly fit and wear a bicycle helmet.

"We think this will help to embed bicycle safety in the kids' minds, along with fitness," she said. "That's important because bicycling probably is one of the best forms of physical exercise out there. We want to encourage that activity, but we want the kids to do it safely."

William Gorton of Lexington, an avid cyclist and a Kentucky Bicycle and Bikeway Commission member, said the grant to the Fayette schools is one of the first seven to be awarded under the license plate sale program.

Gorton said that too often, cyclists who haven't received safety training don't know or follow traffic rules or wear helmets.

"When you're growing up, a bicycle is a toy," he said. "but it's more than that when you get older. It's a vehicle. We want our kids to know it, and know it young."

White, once a serious cyclist herself, knows how important bike safety can be. Her best friend in college was struck and killed by a car while biking. Her brother, who rides in bike races, narrowly escaped injury in a racing crash. And a student at a school where she taught a few years ago was seriously injured in a bike crash.

"I've seen a lot over the years, and I keep thinking that if kids had had a little bit of safety instruction, it would have made them safer on their bikes," she said.