One sunny day in Phoenix, a group of elementary schoolers were happily riding bikes and scooters around a bicycle obstacle course at Dunbar Elementary School. Every single child was wearing a properly-fitted, shiny new helmet.
Not far away, John Boyd was monitoring the little cyclists. He set up the event as part of his work as an Injury Prevention Specialist at Phoenix Children’s - the largest pediatric healthcare system in the Valley.
As part of his job at Phoenix Children’s, Boyd helps organize events like this across the Valley, called Bike Rodeos, to educate kids and families about helmet safety and the importance of sharing the road. In the first half of 2023, Phoenix Children's distributed more than 3,000 helmets, funded by organizations such as the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety and Waymo.
“They learn the rules of the road. They learn proper bike fitting. They learn, number one, wearing the helmets,” said Boyd, a father of five who previously worked as a police officer focusing on bicycle and pedestrian safety.
The kids have fun, too. Annesa, age 8, Skylar, age 7, and Evelyn, age 6, excitedly described their experience.
“We did riding bikes and then we got snow cones and we took a little break,” Annesa said.
Skyler urged other children to protect their heads when they ride bikes or scooters.
“It's important to wear a helmet. You can fall.”
Gina Millsaps, former principal at Dunbar Elementary School, said the event was fundamentally about learning how to stay safe and share the road.
“It’s important to educate our kids about how to ride a bike safely and be courteous to each other when there is more than one person on the road,” said Millsaps.
Millsaps explained that this Bike Rodeo was held through a unique partnership between Phoenix Children’s, Dunbar Elementary School, and the autonomous driving technology company, Waymo, and was inspired by the same shared vision: a future where everyone shares the road safely and there are no more childhood bike, pedestrian or ATV fatalities or injuries on Phoenix roads.
“The number one issue I see is when they come in on bikes is they're not wearing helmets,” Boyd shared. “I would say nine out of 10 aren't wearing helmets.”
Tragically, countless children are rushed to Phoenix Children’s every year with preventable head injuries.
“In Phoenix, we see lots of [bicycle, scooter, and skateboard] injuries and we see them year-round,” explained Dr. Jon McGreevy, an emergency medicine physician at Phoenix Children’s. “A big proportion of those [children] are not wearing helmets or other kinds of protective gear, and it definitely contributes to the injuries that we see.”
In 2020, there were 136,765 nonfatal bicycle-associated injuries in children ages 0 to 19 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Kyle, a parent who brought four of his own children and three of his nieces to the Bike Rodeo at Dunbar Elementary School, said he wasn’t taking any chances when it came to their safety.
“We wear helmets, knee pads, elbow pads, all that good stuff,” said Kyle, adding that many children forget to look both ways to make sure no cars are coming before they cross the street.
At every Bike Rodeo, Boyd talks with parents and caregivers about the importance of driving carefully, staying constantly vigilant, not speeding, and stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks. As a police officer, Boyd said he recalls seeing many drivers speeding in school zones. He noted that drivers are oftentimes unaware of road safety laws.
“A lot of times the caregivers will stand and go, ‘Oh, really? I need to stop for somebody in a crosswalk?’” Boyd said. Arizona law does require that vehicles stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. “Then, a lot of drivers don't see children because they're smaller [...] so many people aren't looking out for children.”
Waymo’s autonomous driving technology was created with safety of all road users as its primary goal. The technology is intentionally designed to follow road rules, obey speed limits, be constantly vigilant and respect other road users. Waymo’s radars and advanced vision system can see all around the vehicle, identify other road users, and even predict what they may do next.
Waymo invited Dr. McGreevy and Boyd of Phoenix Children’s to take a fully autonomous ride with Waymo One to assess how the technology might help improve road safety for cyclists and pedestrians.
“I was impressed that it really followed the rules of the road, probably better than I do as a driver,” Dr. McGreevy said, adding that Waymo did not speed and gave clearance to a bike lane. “We had plenty of pedestrian traffic to navigate, but I felt like it was no different or maybe better than when I do it.”
Dr. McGreevy also observed that Waymo stopped at a stop sign for an appropriate amount of time and waited for the proper window to make a left-hand turn.
“I think those sorts of things really will help keep people and drivers safe,” Dr. McGreevy emphasized.
Boyd said that he was amazed at how Waymo’s technology did not speed, carried out correct turns, stopped for a yellow light, and even stopped for a pedestrian it sensed on the other side of a large bush who was not visible to the human eye.
“A lot of drivers don't see children because they are so unpredictable,” Boyd said. “I believe the Waymo car will be able to see them quicker and that way we won't have as many crashes with kids.”
Kyle said that he’d seen Waymo vehicles around Phoenix driving with the personality of a respectful, considerate driver.
“They're courteous vehicles from what I've noticed,” Kyle said, adding that he felt comfortable with Waymo and his children sharing the same roads. “They'll give you your space, they'll maneuver. It's actually kind of intriguing, I'm not going to lie. We might take one tonight.”
While autonomous driving technology like Waymo’s is helping improve road safety for all road users, there are other steps parents, caregivers and kids can take at the same time.
“If I could give advice to parents with children: wear a helmet. We only have one brain. You have got to protect it,” said Dr. McGreevy. “Wear your helmets every time you go out, no matter what you're doing, whether that's going to school, whether it's riding your scooter or your bike, your skateboard.”