Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on December 10th, 2008 at 10:39 am
(Photos © J. Maus)
I'm not sure what is about my daughters' school, but the bike racks are always full of distractions for a bike geek like me. Remember the mini-tall-furry bike?
One of the more interesting (and growing) categories of bikes I'm noticing are family bikes. The other day, I noticed a pair of women who rolled up with their kids from SE Portland. One of them had the Xtracycle/child seat combo and the other had a Kona Ute longtail with a bit of DIY flair -- a fully-custom, wooden baby seat with an integrated deck.
It seemed to work great and it even had some safety restraints, which leads me to the next part of my story...
Last week, our Family Biking columnist Marion Rice wrote about how she keeps her little ones happy on the bike. Apparently, someone read that story and then asked local blogger/muckracker/smart guy Jack Bogdanski the following question:
"Why is it alright to stick three kids in a bucket attached to a bike and ride around on Portland streets, but you get a ticket if you don't have them seat belted in your car?"
Mr. Bogdanski thought that was a "good question" and he posted it on his blog. A long and heated discussion ensued (that revolved mostly around the usual topics of the relative safety of biking versus other modes, etc...).
The thread was then picked up by our friends at Copenhagenize in a post titled, Portland Debate.
This topic, similar to calls for bike licensing and increased law enforcement of bicycle laws, are emblematic of a certain group of people who can sense the rising tide of bike use and who feel that along with that rise, bikes should shoulder all the same legal/financial responsibilities of cars (it's only fair right?!).
I think this topic sparked discussion for another reason: Many Americans who don't regularly ride a bike think doing so, especially on streets alongside cars, is suicide. This mindset exists for many reasons, mostly perhaps due to a constant fear-mongering around bikes in many media outlets.
For those folks, anyone who would pull a child around in a trailer, or plop them on a rack or in a bucket of a bike, is completely out of their mind. I've heard stories from moms pulling kids in trailers who were yelled at by people in cars for endangering their children.
But I digress. Back to the safety belt issue. I asked bike lawyer Mark Ginsberg (who turns out, took a tax law class from Mr. Bogdanski years ago) if there was any Oregon law pertaining to child restraints on bicycles.
He said no. In the U.S., he noted, all products sold must pass certain safety requirements doled out by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, but there is often no legal requirement to use those products (like helmets, for instance).
For more insight, I referred to lawyer Ray Thomas' Pedal Power legal handbook. Oregon Revised Statute 814.460 is the only law I could find that pertains to carrying people on bicycles. It states:
A person commits the offense of unlawful passengers on a bicycle if the person operates a bicycle and carries more persons on the bicycle than the number for which it is designed or safely equipped.
What about ORS 814.400, "Application of vehicle laws to bicycles"? That law says a person riding a bicycle is subject to "the provisions applicable to and has the same rights and duties as the driver of any other vehicle." That might give some legal muscle to a call for seat belts for bikers. But it goes on to say that it applies except when, "Those provisions which by their very nature can have no application."
Ginsberg, an expert on bike-related law, said he doesn't think motor vehicle seat belt laws would apply to bicycles.
All of this is interesting to me because, as bicycles become a more respected and larger part of our transportation mix, we will come face to face with the reality that the vast majority of our existing traffics laws were written exclusively for cars. Bike advocates and bike-friendly politicians have worked diligently for years to chip away at the vehicle code, but it's still generally thought of as a "motor vehicle code".
Similar to how our thinking about bikeway engineering needs to evolve, I think we should begin to consider not just trying to accomodate bicycles in the existing vehicle code, but perhaps it's time to create an entirely separate legal framework for bicycles. Not more laws, but more clarity of existing laws and a recognition that many laws that pertain to motor vehicles, simply are not applicable to human-powered ones.
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