This post is by Phil Price.
An Oregon legislator, Mitch Greenlick, has proposed to make it illegal in Oregon to carry a child under six years old on one’s bike (including in a child seat) or in a bike trailer. The guy says “”We’ve just done a study showing that 30 percent of riders biking to work at least three days a week have some sort of crash that leads to an injury… When that’s going on out there, what happens when you have a four year old on the back of a bike?” The study is from Oregon Health Sciences University, at which the legislator is a professor.
Greenlick also says “”If it’s true that it’s unsafe, we have an obligation to protect people. If I thought a law would save one child’s life, I would step in and do it. Wouldn’t you?”
There are two statistical issues here. The first is in the category of “lies, damn lies, and statistics,” and involves the statement about how many riders have injuries. As quoted on a blog, the author of the study in question says that, when it comes to what is characterized as an injury, “It could just be skinning your knee or spraining your ankle, but it couldn’t just be a near miss.” By this standard, lots of other things one might do with one’s child — such as playing with her, for instance — might be even more likely to cause injury.
Substantial numbers of people have been taking their children on bikes for quite a while now, so although it may be impossible to get accurate numbers for the number of hours or miles ridden, there should be enough data on fatalities and severe injuries to get a semi-quantitative idea of how dangerous it is to take a child on a bike or in a bike trailer. And when I say “dangerous” I mean, you know, actually dangerous.
The second problem with Greenlick’s approach is that it seems predicated on the idea that, in his words, “If I thought a law would save one child’s life, I would step in and do it. Wouldn’t you?” Well, no, and in fact that is just a ridiculous principle to apply. Any reasonable person should be in favor of saving children’s lives, but not at all cost. We could make it illegal to allow children to climb trees, to eat peanuts, to cross the street without holding an adult’s hand…perhaps they shouldn’t be allowed to ride in cars. Where would it end?
Finally, a non-statistical note: another state rep has commented regarding this bill, saying that “this is the way the process often works: a legislator gets an idea, drafts a bill, introduces it, gets feedback, and then decides whether to try to proceed, perhaps with amendments, or whether to let it die.” If true, this is a really wasteful and inefficient system. Better would be “a legislator gets an idea, does a little research to see if it makes sense, introduces it,…” Introducing it before seeing if it makes sense is probably a lot easier in the short run, but it means a lot of administrative hassle in introducing the bills, and it makes people waste time and effort trying to kill or modify ill-conceived bills.