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« Family Cycling Outlaws »

So from a clueless lawman's mouth, the outlaw family cyclists were born.

An Oregon State representative has proposed amending current statute as follows (part b is new):

SECTION 1. ORS 814.460 is amended to read:
  814.460. (1) A person commits the offense of unlawful
passengers on a bicycle if the person operates a bicycle and
carries { + :
  (a) + } More persons on the bicycle than the number for which
it is designed or safely equipped { + ; or
  (b) A child under six years of age on the bicycle or in a
bicycle trailer + }.
  (2) The offense described in this section, unlawful passengers
on a bicycle, is a Class D traffic violation.

Catch that? Illegal to carry a child under 6 years old (not months), on a bicycle or bike trailer. $90 infraction.

Yes, this entire website would be illegal in the state of Oregon. 

You would be forgiven for assuming this was the work of a bike-baiting, rural, truck-and-gun-rack conservative. 

But you would be wrong. This is the work in progress of one Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland. D as is democratic, Portland as in Bikeytown USA. Oregon as in where Burley trailers were invented. 

His rationale, if you can call it such, is that a recent OHSU study of adult bicycle commuters found that in 1 year, 20% sustained a minor injury (including bruises or scrapes), and 5% had an injury requiring medical attention ... so ... THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!

In his words (this and other quotes from BikePortland):

When that's going on out there, what happens when you have a four year old on the back of a bike? From a precautionary principle, I felt it was important to discuss the issue and start a debate.

Um, there were no children in this study. Let alone passengers on adult bicycle. My solo commute route and riding style is very different from how I ride with children on board. Perhaps he is aware of more pertinent public health research on riding with children on board?


But he's looking for some. Hasn't found it yet. Hasn't stopped him from proposing legislation to make it illegal.

But hey, "Everybody should just stay calm, this is part of a deliberative process." I may not be a state representative, but it would seem that the review of the evidence might want to come before the proposing to make it illegal part. Or even proposing to have a discussion about it. 

In fact, he won't find solid evidence to support such legislation. What's available is hardly the sort of data to base legislation upon - almost entirely without "denominator" information (it's not enough to know how many injuries - you need to know over how many trips). Much of it from ERs: descriptions of "what came through the door," looking at patterns of injuries in child seats, trailers, etc. Not sturdy stuff, as far as public health research goes. 

But go ahead, have a look. Better yet, conduct better research. A prospective study of cycling families, for starters? No shortage of those in Portlandia.

But based on his comments, I have genuine concern for his ability to interpret the research, and his judgment in deciding whether to inform parents or legislate their choices for them. Quoth Greenlick:

"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?"

NO! And I'm a freaking pediatrician. It's my job to care about such things.

From a public health perspective, an intervention that attempts to make one aspect of life safer, if it even works, may just shift risk elsewhere, either in the near or long-term. As in, fewer young families biking -> more families driving -> more dangerous streets for the over 6yo's still walking and biking to school. 

Assuming that's still legal in Greenlick's nannytopia

Or fewer young children weaned on the bike + more fearful parents -> less interest in active transportation -> obesity epidemic unchecked -> the first generation to have shorter lifespans than their parents. 

And yes, of course, the number one cause of death from age 1 to 34? Motor vehicle crashes. But to be rigorous about it, that statistic doesn't take in account how often we drive (exposure to said risk). It may well be that driving is safer than riding a bike, on a per mile or per trip basis. In the short-term. There is a valid argument for a long-term overall health benefit.

Even if we had convincing data that kids under 6 were at some higher risk on or behind a bike, at what point does it stop being our decision? After all, taking a car is 10 times more hazardous than taking the bus, for adults at least. But I don't see driving being made illegal anytime soon.

Life is dangerous. Life has risk. "Injury-free childhood" does not exist. I wouldn't want one for my kids if it did. Most things worth doing have some risk of injury. Not doing such things has risk too. 

Which isn't to say that investigating the safety of transporting kids by bike isn't very worthwhile. It would inform parents' choices, and lead to guidance on ways to lower risk. Here is my attempt to do so.

You'd think a professor emeritus and past chair of the Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine in the Medical School of OHSU would understand this stuff. But he doesn't seem to, based on his absurd "if it could save one child's life" standard. And even if he's ducking behind a "this is how the process works" disclaimer, it's outrageous to introduce a bill with only a barely relevant commuter study and a hunch to back it up. 

But if it's a debate he wants, a debate he has started. Too bad he seems to be ending his public health and political careers on such a false note. If he truly cared about the safety of kids on bikes, he could have proposed lowering speed limits, stiffer penalties for distracted driving, or even funded a study to explore the question he's so clumsily, offensively asking.

And in the meantime, I'm taking the kids to Portland tomorrow, on bikes and Amtrak. While it's still legal.

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Reader Comments (12)

I'm so with on this one. How about ENFORCING laws around texting & talking on handheld devices while driving? This may truly help keep our kids safe-- those in cars & those on bikes.

January 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersara

Actually.... Burley was starting in Eugene- the Original Bikeytown in Oregon =)

It is pretty crazy that this is how he thinks you start a discussion.... on something that isn't an issue in the first place!

January 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShane

Masterful refutation of an very misguided idea! Love your pics too! Made me laugh.

Great point as to how a poorly though out idea (especially when codified into law) can lead to unintended consequences that can shift risks and problems to other groups or create a larger long term problem. The medical analogy could work too in what is it you called? - the cascade of interventions: A solution is prescribed, only to cause another, more serious, problem that then needs more interventions which then goes on and on...


I am going to cover this later today at my blog from the perspective of using it as a "teachable moment."

Thanks again for a great post!

January 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Evans

Such a bad idea. Hard to believe it's being even conceived of.

January 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Yep. As I mentioned on Bike Portland (though I think it may have been drowned out in the storm), if you really want to save the lives of children, here's how it's done: Trying to outlaw every single thing that you think might be dangerous is silly and counterproudctive. Do it right or just go home.

January 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVal

I found this to be the section that resonated with me: "I may not be a state representative, but it would seem that the review of the evidence might want to come before the proposing to make it illegal part. Or even proposing to have a discussion about it."

Discussions are good. This is a good topic for discussion and from that dialogue one would learn and grow. However, to proper change and make a bill and then dialogue is like me kicking you in the knee for the possibility that you would kick me. But do not worry. We can talk about it after I kick you. (Well, maybe it is not entirely like that but that is how it feels.)

January 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTravis A. Wittwer


In the non-study of this, exactly how did he come up with the specific age cut-off? He must have used another non-study to determine that six, and not five or seven, was the limit of the risk factor.

The thing that is scaring me the most is that we cycling families are absolutely a minority within a minority (cycling in general), and this type of amendment can be seen law makers as affecting so few individuals that there is no risk to their careers by passing it.

So will my kids need to carry ID cards when on the bike? I see a future in fake toddler IDs...

January 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMax

Now offered at Clever Cycles...Fake Moustaches.

January 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMax

Max, I love the fake moustaches idea. but the great thing about this minority-within-a-minority is that we are extraordinarily passionate and tireless when it comes to defending what we've come to know as our way of life. I mentioned this in my letter to Greenlick and said I, and many many parents like me, would work tirelessly to defeat him and others who supported the bill in future election cycles.

and I mean it.

January 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersarah gilbert

Fake IDs - love it! Or add-on vestigial third wheels. We're on a tricycle now, nanny nanny booboo.

Shane ... meant no Eugene disrespect. But Burley's on my list, now that their rep proposed outlawing non-ASTM conveyances in the Oregonian article. Which is most of what we ride. What a self-serving response. Can't imagine Xtracycle saying that.

Talk to them. I know you've got serious juice down there. In other Eugene news, I'm coming down for a conference this Spring. Show me how it's done.

January 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulian

Wow! Career politicians! they have no idea of how the real world works!

Would you like me to post/tweet this elsewhere? I wonder what the cycle-press would make of this?

January 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercycledad

My first thoughts when I read this are of the TSA. Ineffective nanny-state rules that target what is, statistically, and imaginary threat, and routinely exposes people to another one (radiation). There's a greater risk of dying by falling out of bed than by a terrorist attack.

I live in Manitoba (for the moment), where helmet laws (we have none currently) have been proposed a couple of times in the last few years. I think it's telling that the proponents have not suggested a three-foot (or 1m) space for motor vehicles overtaking vulnerable road users, or any other measures to regulate the behavior of the operators of the dangerous vehicles. Instead, they target the vulnerable in the name of safety.

I sure hope people can learn to stop being afraid of shadows.
The really sad thing is the tacit assumption that society is incapable of change. We "can't afford" bicycle infrastructure, because it would only benefit a tiny percentage of people. Motorists drive dangerously, so we need to keep vulnerable people off the roads. People don't use public transportation enough, so we should cut back on the number of routes and times they're used.

January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMike

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