What’s Really Dangerous for Kids? Hint: It Has Four Wheels and a Tailpipe.

2822848009_98b4623864_m.jpgPhoto by pawpaw67 via Flickr.

When she wrote a column for the New York Sun last year about letting her nine-year-old ride the subway on his own, Lenore Skenazy was pilloried by many as an irresponsible mom. She stuck to her guns, though, and started a blog
dedicated to "sane parenting", advocating the idea that we are
over-sheltering our children from infinitesimal threats such as
stranger abduction. According to Skenazy, the kind of independence
represented by that subway trip is necessary and healthy for children
— and their parents as well.

Now she’s making the publicity rounds promoting her book, Free-Range Kids. In a recent interview with Salon,
she pointed out that  while many American parents are terrified to let
their children walk a few blocks or ride public transit, they think
nothing of driving them everywhere — even though car crashes are the leading cause of death for children in the US:

Skenazy:
If you don’t want to have your child in any kind of danger, you really
can’t do anything. You certainly couldn’t drive them in a car, because
that’s the No. 1 way kids die, as passengers in car accidents.

Salon: Rationally, why aren’t cars the bogeyman instead of stranger abduction?

Skenazy:
It would change our entire lifestyle if we couldn’t drive our kids in a
car, and it’s a danger that we just willingly accept without examining
it too much, because we know that the chances are very slim that we’re
going to have a fatal car accident. But the chances are 40 times
slimmer that your kid walking to school, whether or not she’s the only
one, is going to be hurt by a stranger.

Skenazy’s
answer gets to the heart of why it is so hard for people to accept the
many ways in which automobiles hurt everyone in society, perhaps
especially children — through crashes, through polluting the air, through promoting obesity.
We can imagine a life in which our children are not allowed to play
outdoors, walk to a friend’s house or spend any time unsupervised. But
we just can’t imagine life without cars.

Or can we?

  • Spokker

    People mistakenly believe they are in control in a car. While your driving skills (such as defensive driving) can certainly help you avoid accidents, you are not the master of your destiny on a freeway as any number of things outside of your control can happen to kill you and your precious.

    Parents are worried about their kids, and rightly so, but it causes them to act in irrational ways, behaviors that are then passed on to their kids.

  • Brent

    In this video,

    , which has been making the rounds on bicycle blogs, one Dutch official talks about how parents had a vital role in the widespread roll out of bicycle lanes in Holland.

    This perspective may give us in Los Angeles a powerful insight in how to improve bicycling on our streets. There be no more powerful lobby than parents concerned about their children, nor any group of individuals more willing to act in hopes of making their children safer.

    In watching the “Storm the Bastille” L.A. City Council videos from the other day, I was struck at the marked difference in culture from the riders and the council members. The riders did a great job, and did spark some action, but the council members seemed more to patronize than understand the problems facing cyclists.

    Imagine if we could get parents lobbying for bike lanes and paths safe enough for their children to ride to school. What a difference that would make! It would no longer be a “bicycle culture” issue, but instead a child safety issue, and that could make a huge difference.

    One can dream…

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