Friday, 31 August 2012

A Current Affair and cycling with kids

This Australian current affairs shown ran this piece recently. Some random came across a lady on a bike, towing a kid in a trailer. They were so horrified, so they said, that they filmed them and kept calling to them out the window about how dangerous it was. I've seen the footage. No doubt it's out there for anyone who cares to search for it.

This has got a bit of attention recently, at least in the cycling corners of teh internets. The general reaction is along the lines of, "What are these people on about?". My reaction is one of disappointment. I've seen this attitude to cycling with kids, contended with this attitude and I think it could do with some discussion. What ACA ran was sensationalist, one-sided and unhelpful.

Let me start with a disclaimer. I've done similar things. I've ridden with kids in a bike trailer, in traffic, for some value of "traffic". So, insofar as the lady in the clip is irresponsible or stupid or whatever, I guess I am too. As far as I know, no randoms in passing cars have been moved to film me and make it into some sort of cautionary tale, but I don't see any real distinction between what she does and what I do. I don't think what I do is irresponsible or stupid. I understand it might seem that way, but I contend that the risks are overstated and the rewards greater than you might at first imagine.

I'm happy to stipulate that a child is better off in a car than a bike trailer when a car collides. Hey, I'll go further and say *much* better off. That part is certainly true. So I'm exposing my kids to some degree of risk.

Here follows the bit where I justify my knowingly exposing my kids to risk. This argument has several strands.

One, I don't see it as my role as a parent to aggressively eliminate every last risk from my kids' lives. I'd go mad trying. I do not think it's a desirable end, either. Most anything worth bothering with has risks. You look at the risk and you look at the reward.

Two, I think ACA overstates the risk. What I saw actually looked like pretty switched-on cycling. She was positioning herself on the road in such a way that she was easy to spot. This is a big help when cycling in traffic. It's unintuitive, so people tend to get irate, or indignant or whatever. But old mate the "road-safety expert" is right on the money when he says you have to be seen. Cyclists riding down the middle of the road are, believe it or not, easy to spot. So what might look daft (you might get run over!) is actually quite sensible. The risks of riding in heavy traffic are overstated too. The speed difference is lower. That's a big help. I've ridden in Sydney traffic and I didn't find it particularly sinister. That traffic didn't look particularly scary to me.

Three, I think there are risks to not doing it. For one thing, there's an obesity epidemic on. I gather ACA has been most insistent on this point. So avoiding a sedentary lifestyle seems like a bright idea to me. Oh, they start out in a trailer, but shortly after they can walk they've graduated to pushbikes and before you know it they're on bikes and scooters and generally getting exercise. I think that the message that it's respectable and practicable to walk or ride rather than drive is an important one.

Four, they enjoy it, or so they say. Their actions kind of reinforce it too. I guess this comes back to that risk/reward thing. They interact with their environment - exchange greetings with passersby, point out this and that, whatever. That's a good thing, and harder to do in a car.

I also think that their concerns don't make we want to get kid trailers off the road. They make me want to lower speed limits in built-up areas and improve driving standards (including attitudes to cyclists). Better cycling infrastructure wouldn't go astray either.

But, yeah, there's a risk. I'd be a fool to say otherwise. I don't think taking it makes us bad people, though. For one thing, anyone who transports their kid in anything but the very safest car, in the very safest seat required by law, is also taking an unnecessary risk. Taking kids to the park is risky too, and completely unneccessary. I'm sure that ACA (and quite a few of their viewers) regard cycling with a child trailer in Sydney traffic as a risk they wouldn't take. I respect that. It's quite a jump, though, from "something I wouldn't personally do" to "something so pointlessly risky that no reasonable person would do it". I've got a hard time seeing how you can make that contention without a highly exaggerated idea of the risks and absolutely no understanding of the motivation.

1 comment:

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