Monday, August 2, 2010

Biking boys, better drivers. It's a theory

 Me and the older dudes

The obvious answer is the fun. My boys have gone from wobbly, weaving kids who don't know if they can make the two miles to Main Street to power pedalers who don't bat an eye about biking to the library. Watching the transformation has been inspiring as I try new activities in my 40s.

But it's not always a party. There are trips that require me to be more psychologist than mother, and I usually am very grateful for a cold brew after the fact. I'm pretty determined to keep them biking, though.

The biggest reason is for their own safety. Back in the day, kids learned how to drive the old family clunker on back roads or steered the tractor in a straight line during planting season. My dad taught my sister how to drive on the old yellow and brown pickup (column shift) at the camp and conference center where we lived. By the time she hit driver's ed, she had driving miles and experience under her belt, which probably made her a better driver.

These days, what do we have? Video driving simulators like MarioKart? How reassuring.

I figure that getting my boys out in traffic will help prepare them for the day when they finally get behind the wheel and have to navigate a 1-ton hunk of metal on the street. They'll understand how traffic lights, a 4-way stop, and a left-hand turn work.

I ran this theory by Marc of the fabulous blog Amsterdamize, where you can see amazing pictures of Dutch folks doing their everyday biking thing in regular clothes, every season of the year. My question to him was essentially, "Do kids who grow up cycling like those chic and hardy Dutch folks become safer drivers?"

His answer: perhaps.

Marc said that in the Netherlands, children receive bicycle training instruction in school, which teaches them things like bicycle safety and how to read traffic signals. "It is part of the curriculum, since it's in everybody's interest that kids ride to school and know what to do in all circumstances," he said.

Many children, especially in cities like Amsterdam and Utrecht, are on a bike from an early age. How young? Check out this photo of an Amsterdam dad ready to bike with his two tykes. Marc says that most children are biking independently by age 7 or 8.

But does all the biking and training help?

"Yes, (it makes them) safer drivers, absolutely," he said. "You can see how that makes a difference on a daily basis. Car drivers are aware and mindful of people on bikes because they bike themselves too. And getting your driver's license ain't no walk in the park. It's expensive and rules regarding bikes on the road are very strict."

He went on to say that in the case of an auto vs. bike accident in the Netherlands, the car's driver is always assumed to be at fault unless otherwise proven in court. That's a far cry from American rules of the road, where it's quietly assumed that the cyclist must made the wrong decision at the wrong place at the wrong time. After all, roads are for cars first, right?

I'll admit that it's other drivers, not my children's abilities, that make me most concerned when I'm on the roads with them. But I'll keep trying. I'd rather have them gain real-life experience than live in a bubble.

 How it's done in Amsterdam. Photo by Amsterdamize

4 comments:

  1. I'm absolutely a more considerate, safer driver since I became a bike commuter. I'm just a little more aware of how vulnerable bicyclists are.

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  2. Me, too! I'm also a little more hacked off at bikers who take chances. No one wants to be part of an accident.

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  3. Some more info on Dutch school cycle training

    http://hembrow.blogspot.com/2010/04/school-cycle-training.html

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  4. Very good point about just learning how just learning to operate "a" vehicle will help them when they start driving a car. It also makes sense that they will see bikes when they drive because they have grown up as bikers. And hopefully they will be more likely to prefer riding a bike than driver those dang cars!

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