Should this be banned? Courtesy eyeliam via flickr and Creative Commons.
The upsurge in urban cycling in the U.S. has for the most part had positive results for society. Cycling helps keeps obesity at bay, reduces stress, and the building of new bike infrastructure has even helped create jobs.
For every positive benefit biking has brought about, however, there's also been inevitable backlash from the forces in society that don't want to share the road.
And then there's the perplexing question of Mitch Greenlick. He's an Oregon House Representative who is proposing a state law (HB 2228) that would make it illegal to transport children under the age of six by bicycle. Greenlick says his bill is justified if the law would save just "one child's life."Of course it's hard not to have an emotional response when reading about saving (or losing) a child's life.
Greenlick has said in press accounts that he based his idea for a bill in part on a recent Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) study that found that of 962 Portland commuter cyclists surveyed, 20% had had a 'traumatic event' (injury of some sort) and 5% had required medical attention for that injury during a year of commuting.
That seems like a lot of injuries. From an interview with one of the doctors involved in the study in the Portland Mercury, here's a closer definition of 'traumatic event':
"You had to actually be injured. It could just be skinning your knee or spraining your ankle, but it couldn't just be a near miss. I think it was surprising. We were expecting fewer injuries." - Dr. John Mayberry
It is interesting that in the OHSU study, riders' skill and experience with riding didn't change the number of injuries or events. The studies authors also concluded that it was the cycling environment, rather than riders' skill, that contributed most to injury events.
As Mia Birk, former bicycle coordinator for the City of Portland who recently published a book (Joyride) about her efforts at improving Portland's cycling infrastructure noted, however, the OHSU study doesn't offer any statistics about cycling injuries to children, only to adult cyclists.
If we look at data for leading causes of death to children aged one through six at the Center for Disease Control database, the top killer is classified as"MV Traffic," numbering 618 fatalities in 2007, the latest data year provided.
For the "Pedal, Cyclist, Other" category, five deaths are recorded. In searching for the largest single cause of injuries to kids under six, the 'unintentional fall' (which theoretically could include falling from a bike) and the 'unintentional stuck by/against' accounted for the vast majority.
While these stats don't give a clear picture of the comparative death/injury risk for children from riding in cars versus riding on bikes (because U.S. children ride so many more miles in cars than they do on bikes) they do clearly show that motor vehicles by far constitute the number one killer.
So in the absence of better data (which is clearly needed), if Greenlick is truly concerned with saving childrens' lives, shouldn't he be outlawing kids riding in cars, too?
Follow April at Twitter:
More on biking and Portland
George Will is Just Plain Wrong...Here Are Five Cities Where More Than .01% Ride Bikes to Work
Does Green Box Biking Reduce Right Hook Collisions?
Creating Green Commuters From Scratch in Portland