Banning babies on bikes?

I mentioned this at the end of the last post, but it deserves its own space: Washington State Senator Honeyford has introduced SB 6142, which reads, in entirety:

A person shall not operate a bicycle attached to an occupied baby carrier on a street or other roadway, unless the bicycle is operated within a city or town that prohibits the operation of bicycles on the sidewalk adjacent to the street or other roadway.

Biking mom Claire Petersky has commented astutely; I can do no better. I will observe, however, a certain constellation of feel-good-think-less legislation in Republican Senator Honeyford’s record, including a fifty-fold increase in fines for failing to get out of the way of emergency vehicles (as if drivers sit there paralyzed now, thinking, “hm, should I plow into that mom and kid on the bike on the sidewalk, or take the fine?”), authorizing the use of video surveillance in nursing homes (“we care — cost effectively!”), and praising babies.

17 thoughts on “Banning babies on bikes?”

  • Jess Austin

    I do feel that young children on (or attached to) bicycles are in a different safety situation than older children or adults on bicycles. While children can be safe on bicycles in a range of environments, I have seen children, especially in the “tire-level” trailers, whom I felt to be in a position of elevated peril. However…

    Safety is always a relative value, which must be weighed against other values operative in a given context. That’s true even when children are involved. Younger children aren’t capable of weighing the utilities and probabilities inherent in decisions affecting their welfare, so other actors must make these decisions. It is natural and appropriate that parents make most safety decisions for children. Society (or at least that portion of society that is able to influence legislation) occasionally finds its values so violated by the decisions that parents make, that it imposes laws governing this relationship. For example, we’ve had laws on the books governing child safety seat usage in automobiles for many years.

    Lawmakers should be very careful when regulating the rearing of children, however. When we legislate what parents can and can’t do with their children, our legal system can quickly become antihumanist. Some would argue it has become that. At the very least it is incumbent upon lawmakers to attain a complete understanding of a given situation before attempting to govern it. In the absence of complete and credible analysis, the default should be to do nothing. I don’t feel we have such an analysis about children transported by adult-piloted bicycles. With all due respect to the study cited (and I love the study, I think it’s an excellent resource for policy and education, plus it agrees with my everyday experience), it didn’t address the situation under consideration. Pending more research, I certainly wouldn’t support this law.

    I would support parents thoughtfully considering their children’s safety, with less regard for politics and convenience. The decision not to buy a minivan or SUV is an admirable one, but this decision combined with the terrible way our transportation infrastructure is organized necessarily imposes constraints on where and how parents can transport their children. I don’t assume that a large percentage of bicycling parents are negligent with their children’s safety. In fact, due to their naturally higher intelligence, b^) I wouldn’t expect any car-free parents to be negligent in this fashion.

    However, negligent bicycling parents do exist; I’ve seen them. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that Sen. Honeyford has also seen children in inappropriate situations, quite apart from his ill-conceived pro-sidewalk bias. If certain parents were more considerate of their children’s safety, there would perhaps be fewer efforts underway to make the car-free lifestyle more difficult. Of course such efforts have a variety of sources, but every little bit helps!

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  • Paul Cooley

    Hi Todd,

    I assume someone has contacted the League of American Bicyclists already, but it would be a good thing to do. They have the political muscle to oppose issues such as this.

    Paul

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  • Paul Cooley

    The other question I would have is his definition of “baby.” I assume that he would consider any child who can walk a toddler, and the law wouldn’t apply to them. I can’t see the police stopping every bicycle trailer to see if the child inside is a toddler or a baby.

    That doesn’t, of course, mitigate the fact operating a bicycle on the sidewalk is much more dangerous than operating on in the roadway. He needs to take a local League Road 1 course before he introduces legislation regarding bicyclists.

    Paul

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  • Jill

    I agree. Not only it is ridiculous, that law would be to vague to have any effect at all.

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  • Jim

    “However, negligent bicycling parents do exist; Iââ?¬â?¢ve seen them.”

    I would certainly agree with you on this point Jess. I would argue, however, that “negligent” is the important modifier of “parents” here. The fact that some “negligent” parents also happen to be “bicycling” parents is a coincidence. I think it’s wise to separate these two thoughts, lest the non-cycling world find more evidence that bicycling is inherently negligent with respect to child safety.

    In my personal experience pulling my daughter in the Burley, I have received much more consideration from drivers than I do otherwise. It’s probably also worth mentioning that my riding style is modified when I’m pulling the Burley – I’m certainly a fair bit faster and more aggressive when I ride alone.

    The problem with this proposed law, statistical evidence notwithstanding, is that it just makes sense to many people in our society. Anyone who stands against such a law will appear, to the general population, to be standing in the way of common sense. Senator Honeyford may have the best interests of babies at heart. Or maybe he just wants an issue to claim as his own. Either way, it would be hard to oppose him from a politically motivated standpoint.

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  • Dan

    What is missing in all this is the assumption that bikes are somehow less safe than cars.
    How many babies die in car accidents each year? Perhaps we should ban transportation of anyone younger than 2?

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  • Todd

    Dan, last time I looked at the numbers, car crashes were the leading preventable cause of death in children 2-14. I’m not sure how much safer (or less safe) riding a bike with a child in traffic is, but it’s still fair to say that cars would likely be responsible for any harm that came to them. Riding in a car-free or car-minimal environment would be best of all. Too bad my kid(s) will be grown up before that becomes likely.

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  • Jim

    On a deaths-per-million-hours basis, cycling is about twice as “safe” as driving, with respect to fatality rate. On a per mile basis, it’s closer to even. It’s an extrapolation to use these statistics for babies carried in trailers, but I think it’s a reasonable stretch. I have anecdotal evidence that babies in trailers may be even safer, based on my experience with motorists giving me more respect (space) when I have the Burley in tow than they do when I don’t.

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  • Jess Austin

    Jim, Dan, Todd, I agree totally. Maybe I should have said, “bicycling negligent parents”? It seems like the law is likely to pass, however because it’s easy for the average person to imagine “babies getting run over” and much harder for her to imagine the harm to bicycling parents and their children caused by this law.

    To further illustrate the empathy gap here, consider how unlikely it is for the average person to see a family on bikes and think, “that family is going somewhere, using an appropriate mode of transportation”, rather than “that family is playing around in the street”. Cars are the problem in the inhabited environment, but most people just don’t see that. Just the same, if I ever have children, I’ll take more care in choosing the streets they ride on than I am in choosing the streets I ride on. There are differences between children and adults, and those differences extend to bicycling.

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  • Todd

    i don’t consider the measure likely to pass – too poorly conceived and worded, but maybe i’m not cynical enough. see this good thought: http://www.bikeforums.net/showpost.php?p=1907697&postcount=109

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  • Jim

    If it did pass, I’d be inclined to get myself cited for violating it. I’m no lawyer, but I suspect that the law is sufficiently vague, not to mention wrong-headed, that it could be overturned by a judge given the right testimony.

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  • Debora

    The great irony of this bill is that if I can’t pull my daughter in our bike trailer to go places (be darned if I’m riding on the sidewalk!!), then I will need to put her in a carseat to transport her – and that’s statistically a far less safe place for her to be.

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  • James

    This sounds like another typically american idiotic solution, a dirty bandage applied to the wrong part of the body. The real problem is one of architecture, planning and traffic engineering.

    If these self-appointed guardians of the public interest are so concerned about our safety why haven’t they proposed banning walking with a child, as walking in an american “city” is less safe than riding a bicycle. Perhaps we all should wear a “Walking Helmet.” http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/321/7276/1582
    The Walking helmet is by far the most american solution, why design a street properly when you
    “It began in America, as so many trends do, but for years no one in Europe took any notice. American tourists wearing helmets around the streets of London first drew media attention. And although public response to walking helmets was initially amusement, the appeal of extra safety drew some pioneers to the habit, especially academics and competitive walkers.. “

    Civilisation does exist. Photographic evidence.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeljacobs/113478149/

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  • James

    Een familiefiets

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeljacobs/110804094/

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  • Dave

    It's interesting to note, that in Tokyo, it's illegal for a mother to drop her children off at daycare in a car. Ever seen the pictures of moms on bikes there with 2-3 children attached to the bike? It's pretty crazy (if you're used to places where they ban extra passengers on bikes). Similarly, pictures come from all over Europe with multiple people on bikes, from babies to children, kids, adults, elderly...

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  • BAW

    Dave, what if she brings the child to daycare in a car--say, if she is on her way to work? Must she park a given distance away and walk the child to the door? Not that I don't think that this might be a good idea, but I can see how it would be a logistical nightmare.

    These were older children, but when I taught in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Schools, my first few weeks I thought that there was something odd about the schools. Then I noticed--no bicycle racks and no bicycles. I asked an administrator, and was told that the school system FORBADE children from biking to school. Children might walk if they were close enough; children might take the bus; children might be dropped off by parents--but children could not cycle.

    I thought then and think now that this was a stupid rule.

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  • Dave

    If she's on her way to work, she most likely rides her bike, drops the kids off, then rides to work on her bike. I don't know the exact rules as to how close they can park a car or whatever, but I do know that it's extremely common for women to carry one or more children on a bike. Copenhagenize had a post about this a while ago:

    http://www.copenhagenize.com/2008/09/japanese-bike-culture-mamachari.html

    I agree that it's ridiculous to forbid kids to ride their bikes to school, I don't think that's doing anybody any favors.

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