Thursday, January 13, 2011

Won't Somebody Please Think of the Children?

While automobile accidents remain the #1 killer of les enfants, I am unaware of any progressive legislation that would ban minors from riding in motor vehicles. Back in my day, kids had to fend for ourselves. We could sit in the front seat or back seat. We were not restrained in special seats. Hell, I remember sitting on my parents' laps, both as a passenger and as a co-pilot.

Now, the bratties have to sit in car seats facing back until hitting puberty and stay out of the front seats until they cut their wisdom teeth. They are not forced to wear helmets yet, though it's doubtful that any of these measures are significant if, say, mom had some whiskey in her coffee and has to drive 85 mph in her SUV to get her spawn to soccer practice on time, and damn, there's a tree!

On average, four children die every day as a result of motor vehicle accidents and many others are injured. The scenario created above is not just snark. One in four child fatalities resulting from motor vehicle accidents involved the driver drinking. And, as we know, speed kills.

What can be done about that? Try to ban children under six from riding on bicycles that are controlled by adults.

"But wait," you say,"if only 1.7% of traffic fatalities involve cyclists, shouldn't the focus be on the bulk of the crash victims and causes? To that, I'd answer "Stop using logic. It's unamerican!"

Oregon State Representative Mitch Greenlick, sponsor of House Bill 2228 explained his own logic:

We've just done a study showing that 30 percent of riders biking to work at least three days a week have some sort of crash that leads to an injury... When that's going on out there, what happens when you have a four year old on the back of a bike?

The research looks at riders biking to work, but not necessarily at riders with child cargo. It makes total sense to introduce a bill before conducting relevant research. Totally.

I'm more interested in answering Greenlick's question though. Admittedly, I can be a less than responsible driver at times. I'm the same way on a bicycle. But, when I have had to drive other people's children, my driving habits changed completely. The radio volume is turned down low, I'm constantly checking all mirrors, there's more appropriate distance between my vehicle and others, and my speed is exactly where it should be. I come to a full and complete stop. I do this not out of maternal instincts, but out of utter fear of what the parents would do to me should my negligence result in injury or death of their children. I have not had the opportunity to tow children around via bicycle yet, but I know that my riding skills would be improved in the same way.

If we rarely hear about bicycle-vs-bicycle or bicycle-vs-tree fatalities, then what is really the issue here? Since we're talking about El Prez, some busybody got all up in his face about his decision to schlep some of his spawn via bicycle. Her concern was not that he would slide off the road into a ditch or that he would flip the bike by doing wheelies. It was that a car might slide into the bike. So, instead of doing something more useful, like holding up a gigantic sign telling motorists to slow down so they don't skid into El Prez and Lil Prez, she went after him. You know what that's like? It's like telling a female not to walk (or ride) alone at night because somebody else might rape her. And trust, having heard that sentiment more than enough, such comments are not welcome.

A Fact Sheet of death, mutilation, chaos, and destruction explains that motor vehicles were involved in 90% of deaths of children under 14 who were in a bicycle-related crash. But here's the catch: nothing on this fact sheet mentioned children as passengers on bicycles or riding in bike trailers-- these were all children commanding their own bikes. Look, kids are pretty stupid. Even if your kid is an Honor Roll Student, she's still stupid. That's the nature of children. Their brains have not matured. Their fine and gross motor skills kind of suck. They have no real grasp on mortality. There's a reason we do not let thirteen year old kids drive cars (anymore). Behind the wheel, they'd put too many others in danger; behind the handlebars, its basically only their own lives they are endangering. Adults are better prepared to handle both motor and pedal vehicles, so our "accidents" have less to do with physical development and more to do with laziness and irresponsibility.

Others have made comments on this proposed law already. Dave of Portlandize jokingly predicts, "And next it will be to make it illegal to cross the road with a stroller, because people pushing babies in strollers get hit at crosswalks by people driving." Later, he urges lawmakers to help give cyclists better access to roads if they are really serious about our safety. After the post on Bike Portland, someone asked whether people drive differently around cyclists with children than they do around adult cyclists. Another comment on that same post was particularly on the mark:

I still don't understand what Representative Greenlick expects me to do with my child, if I can't put him on my bike. Leave him at home? Never leave the house? Purchase a car? If this bill isn't anti-family, then it's anti-woman. It's certainly anti-bike and pro-car.
In the articles on this matter, it was stated over and over that the introduction of this bill was a way to start a conversation-- though many have been wondering if the way to begin discussions is in the most extreme way possible. Would it make more sense to begin it in a way that acknowledges that child bike passengers may be vulnerable and that there are several approaches one might take to address this, such as mandating reflectors or flags on trailers, or ticketing motor vehicle operators for traveling too closely to bicycles carrying children?

Since this bill pertains to progressive Oregon and not to our Land of Steady Habits, we don't have to all panic at once. What's more, we can rejoice (just a little) that there is now a warrant for the arrest of a driver who not only hit and killed a cyclist last month, but then sped off with his tail between his legs. There's no bringing back the victim, but this is beginning to sound a little bit more like the justice we have come to expect.


Chris V said...

I have been riding with kids on the back since they were big enough to handle the helmet (1yr.). There are roads you definately avoid with them, but in all it probably is safer than driving. I have found when people see the kid trailer or seat (or both!) they tend to slow down and give you more room. You are also more visible, as your bike just grew in size too. Also, you tend to go slower with the added weight.

My family thinks I am a nut case, showing up at my sister's on Christmas with the kids in tow or when we put the sled in the trailer's trunk and head to the local hill for some sledding yesterday.

I think riding with kids has made me a more conservative and safer cyclist as I am more aware of my surrondings and have learned that it is not a race and I can slow down.

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