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Banning children from bike seats is bad politics

Local and state lawmakers in Washington, hear this tale of warning from Oregon: Don’t propose a ban on children in bike seats. An Oregon legislator, Mitch Greenlick, has proposed a bill that would make it illegal to carry a child younger than six on a bicycle, either in a seat or a trailer. I’m sure this backwater Oregon Republican has just never seen a family of riders … wait, what’s that? He’s a Democrat from Portland? Really?

Well, I don’t know if he expected it or not, but the idea has received quite a backlash. Turns out, if you propose a ban on a normal and healthy activity without any real reason or evidence to support banning said activity, people get angry. One of Seattle’s own family biking blogger superstars, Julian at Totcycle, posted his thoughts:

Yes, this entire website would be illegal in the state of Oregon.

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Clearly, there is no way this bill is going far. So what can we learn from this experience?

  1. Banning activities that are adorable, healthy, fun and bring hope to a sometimes bleak transportation landscape is not a good political move.
  2. Study first, then legislate if necessary (via Bike Portland).
  3. Banning bike riding under the guise of “health” concerns is likely to be nonsense.
  4. Don’t piss off family bikers. Compared to the trials of hauling growing kids up big hills in the rain, fighting a silly state bill like this is, well, child’s play.

According to Greenlick, the bill came out of concerns for children after reading a recent study that showed 5 percent of bike commuters experienced a traumatic event that required medical attention. The study does not, however, say anything about injuries to children in bike seats.

However, can you guess what the leading cause of death among children is? Car crashes. Seeing as many children currently hauled by bike would end up in car seats if riding were banned, that seems like a poor public health decision.

I would love to see Portland conduct a study of the relative safety of transporting children via bicycle. It seems there is no good data. In fact, a study looking at all modes (driving, walking, transit, biking) would be the best. But until we have that kind of data, let’s not get egg on our faces trying to ban activities that might seem dangerous to some people.

UPDATE 5:55 PM – And… it’s already gone. It will likely be turned into a bill to study the safety of riding with children on a bike. That’s if it comes up in committee at all.

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7 responses to “Banning children from bike seats is bad politics”

  1. Rich

    Maybe we should have a one year moratorium on bike bills in the Pacific Northwest. 2011 sure seems to be bringing out the stupid in our politicians (cf., HB 1018).

  2. daisy

    Thanks for picking this ball up Tom.

    Okay I’ll start by giving my own stats of biking with children under the age of whatever. No I’ll start by thanking my parents for using bicycles as a form of family transportation since oh around 1968 when they were discharged from the service. Myself and both of my brothers were on the back in child carriers. So three brothers 16 years apart and no injuries ever.

    I have now raised my child on a bicycle first a trailer when she was about a 11/2 till she was 4ish then on my bike with me until 8 when I started to teach her how to ride in traffic (side street traffic). Bicycles were our only transportation and as a single parent that meant she had to go with me everywhere and that was by bicycle. No accidents in 10 years there. Uhp take that back my daughter was doored while riding on the sidewalk and the reason we were on that sidewalk was having to use an overpass to cross a 99 type highway. So one accident in 30 odd years with 4 different children and three adults, seems like good stats.

    This issue really brings to light how disconnected our society is from one another. On one hand this person on the surface has a genuine concern for his constituants saftey and well being but completely fails to address the fact that not everyone lives there lives in the way he does and the community around him.

    I can’t imagine how I could have raised my child without a bicycle. Her school was 3 mi. away and two busses. There was no bus service for her schools because Oregon has a hard time funding basic education so it placed the burded on a single parent, me. I had to make choices about money, do I work an 8 job to afford a car and insurance plus day care which is really strangers raising your children or go for the 6 hour job and take my kid to and from school and forgo the money of a car. I chose the latter and have never looked back, no regrets. I didn’t have a lot of money but what I did make went directly to the two of us and for the most part stayed within the very neighborhood we lived in.

    So far everything coming from the political side of that story is really just excuses for his poor choice in what he thinks is what is good for everyone in the state of Oregon. His colleagues claim great character, his credentials are of a gold standard so that makes that a piece of legislation that warrants merit. The claim that is just a process a dialogue. What BS! Get your facts straight word the propsed bill properly and make sure that is needed and wanted then submit it. The words he is using is just stalling tactics, he made a mistake and is unwilling at this early point to admit it.

    Now the other part of the bill, earbuds for a general word. If we want to be recongnized as equals on the road then the same rules should apply to distracted riding.

  3. Val

    Saving the lives of children? Sure, here’s how: http://hembrow.blogspot.com/2011/01/stop-child-murder.html If you can’t get it together to try some of that, get out of the way.

  4. jason

    As an adult who grew up in New York City and who still rides his bike to work, i would say that i can not think of a more insane or horrifically stupid thing to do on a bicycle than put a helpless child on the back seat.

    1. Anybody here ever have a major accident on a bike? Anybody have a minor one, say where your bike slides on ice and you have to use your leg to keep yourself upright? Have you ever accidentally hit a pedestrian who stumbled into the bike path? Have you ever had to suddenly brake? Ever make a sudden swerve?

    I am sure these are all great things for a small child to experience with their fragile bones, necks, and arms and with absolutely no way to prepare themselves for these eventualities.

    2) Unless you have a mirror on your bike, and most cyclist don’t, you are unable to see your child without looking back at him. Which gives you the dynamic hobsons choice in a suspected emergency of taking your eyes off the road, or stopping in the middle of the road (which isn’t always possible or safe). Besides the safe rule is always to keep young children in front of you where you can keep an eye on them for any eventuality, including discomfort.

    3) why do we need statistics to see that riding with a child on your bicycle is inherently dangerous? What if i were to tell you that only .02% of people who clean windows on skyscrapers fall down. Would that make you think its not dangerous? In any given city the percentage of policeman who are fatally wounded is probably less than or around 1%. Does that mean being a cop isn’t a dangerous job? Riding a bike is inherently dangerous, you can SEE that its dangerous, you don’t need stats to back it up. Cycling should be left to adults who can assume the risk, or at least to children who are physically capable of managing or reducing the risk (i.e. old enough to ride themselves).

    feel free to flame, doesn’t change the truth.

  5. rich

    I put a lot of miles on a Burley trailer when my kids were little, and they managed to survive to adulthood. I’m sure there are risks, but do children never die in car accidents?

  6. @Jason … so, is there another “safer” way to transport a child? I’m going to assume you are thinking about the automobile, but if that’s the case (ignoring for a minute the actual frightening statistics that show how deadly cars are for children) the second part of your item 2 leaves me confused:

    “Besides the safe rule is always to keep young children in front of you where you can keep an eye on them for any eventuality, including discomfort.

    Is there a car that would let you put your child in front of you?

    There’s lots of stuff in this world that we think is dangerous. Truth is, your child is likely in more danger in a crib than they are on a bike. We need to recalibrate our ideas of fear and safety. I highly recommend checking out Free Range Kids (http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/).

    Read the blog. Read the book. And then relax. They’ll likely survive and thank you for it later.

  7. jason

    we all know the dangers of a car. i am not saying that a car is more safe for an adult than cycling. It isn’t. hence, why i ride my bike to work everyday. I love cycling. I feel there is no healthier, ecologically friendlier, or relaxing means of transportation for urban life. My chief concern with children is risk management. The risk for me in a car accident and the risk for my child in a car accident are well known. However, the risks of carrying a baby on the back of your bicycle are dramatically disproportionate to the child.

    Everyday relatively harmless bicycle mishaps can be mean an injury or be fatal to a child. I do not argue that 99% of the time riding a bicycle will be uneventful. However that doesn’t mean that other 1% of the time common risks cyclist often deal with, such as of being “doored” by a parked car, a gear switching issue that causes your chain to come loose, or just plain “slip and fall” accidents, don’t occur. All of these risks are better managed by an adult, or a child capable of riding a bicycle, riding solo. This says nothing of the dangers that a rider can’t anticipate, such as debris from the road flying upwards, sudden changes in weather, or unexpected changes in the surface of the road caused by deterioration. These risks put the child in much greater danger than it does the adult rider.

    There are “safer” ways of travelling with a child. First, you can walk. However, i realize thats not possible in a lot of places. If you don’t trust your automobile, use public transportation. Portland has some of the best public transportation in the country. If you live in an area without public transportation then i assume your safe idea is to ride along the highways and roads that are filled with automobiles, not made for pedestrians or cyclists, and are the very roads in which most of these fatal car accidents occur.

    I don’t think its too much to wait till your child is of safe riding age, (roughly four years old for simple neighborhood riding and ten-twelve years old for full-on streets and urban riding), when you balance out the risk of putting a helpless child on the back seat of a vehicle that is so exposed. It doesn’t take much to harm a helpless child, think about that the next time you slip, brake suddenly, or crash into something while you ride.

    finally: in response to my “child in front”, what i was chiefly talking about it keeping your child in view at all times. in a car at least there is a manner to “check” what the emergency is with your child. the mirror doesn’t require you to turn your head completely around and away from the road. i wish i had the link, but a near travesty happened fairly recently in which a cyclist was riding blissfully along unaware that his child face was blue from suffocation because he had managed to adjust his helmet in an awkward position. it took a bystander on the street to alert the man to the emergency. if he could see the child’s face, even in mirror, he would have spotted the emergency.

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