Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Shunning Bicycle Education

It is funny how differently people react to children and 'dangerous' activities. Two of my bosses at work both have young children, and of course they all love to swim. So this summer they are in swim lessons or at swim meets quite a bit. I want to compare this activity and the attitude of parents towards it with that of riding a bicycle.

The CDC declared that in 2007 there were roughly 700 child drownings in the US. Obviously swimming carries with it some risk. So what do parents do? They enroll their children in swim lessons where they learn how be safe in and around bodies of water. They learn to tread water, swim, not run around the pool and when it is and when it is not safe to go into the pool. The CDC said that such education reduces the risk of childhood drowning by a whopping 88%! It really is a no-brainer that lessons save lives. Knowledge is simply a must in this situation.

Now, how does that stack up to cycling? The NHTSA reported in 2009 that there were 74 fatalities for people 14 or younger in the US. Cycling also carries some risk. So what do parents do?...Anybody?...Looking for what parents do?...

Well, if it's anything like my experience, I was taught to ride properly in Boy Scouts, and then promptly corrected by my well-meaning parents into ignoring all of that information. I was told to ride on the sidewalk and if there was no side walk (that would be many streets in Baton Rouge) then I should ride on the left hand side of the road into opposing traffic.

Rather than avail themselves of knowledge and embrace education, they advised against it. Clearly they thought that cycling carried risks just the same as swimming (I was also enrolled in swim classes as a child) or else they would not have countermanded the lessons of a knowledgable cyclist. It always surprises me how parents will choose not to properly educate their children about cycling in order to be safe, but almost wholeheartedly embraces education for swimming.

Thinking that children are safe if they ride on sidewalks or bike lanes and leaving it at that is not enough. There are still numerous intersections between that sidewalk and driveways or roads, and drivers do not have total awareness around their vehicles. It is very easy to miss a small child on a sidewalk while backing up a minivan or SUV. Putting your child on separated bike trails will not prepare them for the moments when those trails intersect with roadways or parking lots.