Why is a dad carrying his child by bike causing so much outrage?

There's been a short video clip doing the rounds this week of an adult and a child on a bike in Bristol. It's been causing consternation on social media and in the press. What could be SO controversial about two people on a bike ride in Bristol?

At first glance, the issue that is getting everyone so upset appears to be that the adult who is riding and steering the bike (and looks to be male) is carrying a small child, who is not attached to any form of child seat. Instead, the adult is using one arm to hold the child close to their chest, and steering the bike with the other arm.  Here is a still from the video.

Man on bike holding child in Bristol

You can see the entire thing here, but remember the more the press see people watching and reading such articles, the more they'll publish them.

Of course, this illegal behaviour is not to be condoned. The  Road Traffic Act 1988 Section 24 Restriction of carriage of persons on bicycles, states "Not more than one person may be carried on a road on a bicycle not propelled by mechanical power unless it is constructed or adapted for the carriage of more than one person."

If you're thinking of riding with your child on your bike we've got plenty of advice on how to do this safely and within in the law, and have included links at the bottom of this page.

However, what's worthy of note is that none of the media coverage I've seen mentions that there is a front bike seat attached to the bike.  So, for me there's a more interesting question, "Why is an adult who, presumably, normally makes use of a front seat to carry their child not doing so on this occasion?"   There's many options running through my mind:

  • Has the child been taken ill on the journey?
  • Has a fault developed with the seat, or the seat belt mechanism during their journey?
  • Was the child having an uncontrollable tantrum whilst attempts were made to strap them into the seat, or partway through the journey?
  • Have they just been the victim of a close pass, or verbal abuse, that has left the child distraught and in need of comfort?
  • Was the adult just feeling like throwing caution to the wind and cycling like that - after all so many drivers feel it's OK to drive one-handed (often whilst texting with the other hand - or perhaps drinking a boiling hot drink).
  • Is it a childminder using the parents' bike?
  • Are we witnessing a child abduction/bike theft unfold before our very eyes?

Sadly, we don't know the circumstances, but my guess is it's a dad having a bad morning who had no idea it was going to blow up out of all proportion. I bet he had no clue that his ride that morning would be splashed over the press and social media for others to criticise his attempts at getting himself and his child somewhere.

It seems the media is really quick to judge certain people's behaviour these days.

But what about parents who are late driving their kids somewhere and so break the speed limit or take risks in traffic?

What about parents who feel the need to catch up on work emails or social media updates whilst driving their children?

What about parents who are driving their children short distances, rather than giving them the opportunity to get exercise and fresh air, which is in turn leading to a population of young people obese and overweight?

What about parents who are driving their children everywhere, adding to the alarming levels of air pollution in our towns and cities, which is leading to health and environmental crises?

These parents aren't vilified in the press. Is the behaviour of one parent cycling with their child really worthy of all the fuss?  Sure, it would be lovely if no child was ever put in any form of harm's way by an adult, but sadly the world is not like that. We all take risks, especially when we're rushed.

But, delve a bit deeper and you'll discover the coverage really isn't about that at all.

Firstly, neither the adult or child in the video is wearing a helmet.  This, OBVIOUSLY, then sparks the tired old debate to be rolled out about how they're just begging to be mowed down and killed and it would all be their fault because they're not wearing a helmet. And the fact that it's not compulsory for all the ne'er do well cyclists to wear a helmet is a national outrage and should be enshrined in law immediately.  So far I haven't seen the calls for all cyclists to be licensed, taxed and display number plates, but there's plenty of time for that.

Of course, then a rather patient spokesperson (from Sustrans this time) is wheeled out to yet again explain that helmet wearing isn't going to save the lives of someone mowed down by a moving vehicle, that compulsory helmet wearing hasn't resulted in the desired reduction in accidents in other parts of the world, and wouldn't it be better if we had proper, segregated infrastructure to allow people who choose to cycle to do so safely, well away from those people who choose to drive motor vehicles.

Secondly, the problem appears to be that the person cycling has the audacity to be sharing the road with other road users. Indeed media coverage has gone to pains to point out that "towards the end of the video clip, a silver Honda vehicle can be seen pulling out of a parking bay on the other side of the narrow road, just as the man cycles past it".

The audacity of a human being riding a bike to be using the road when a silver Honda vehicle wants to use it!!

I'm making wild assumptions here but presumably, the silver Honda vehicle is being driven by a person.  Presumably that person has made a decision to pull out of the parking bay into a narrow road.  This means one of four things has happened:

  1. The person driving the silver Honda vehicle has seen the person riding the bicycle, carrying a small child over their shoulder, and decided that there is plenty of space for them to both co-exist safely on the available road space.
  2. The person driving the silver Honda vehicle has not seen the person riding the bicycle, carrying a small child over their shoulder, and pulled out of the parking bay in a way that is putting other road users (including an already vulnerable child) at risk
  3. The person driving the silver Honda vehicle has seen the person riding the bicycle, carrying a small child over their shoulder, realised that there is not enough space on the narrow road, and pulled out anyway.  This option is downright scary.
  4. The silver Honda vehicle is somehow acting autonomously (perhaps a self-drive car?) This is what the wording of the article implies.

Having watched the clip it appears that the silver Honda vehicle actually waits until the person riding the bike has safely passed before pulling out of the space - total non-event!

Finally, and for me most sadly, this type of coverage is evidence of the growing trend in the UK media and online, to use the generic term "cyclists" to pigeon hole an entire section of the population as "ne'er do wells". More worryingly is the tendency to accuse parents who choose to cycle their children to school as somehow putting their children's safety at risk.  And to take the human element away from those who drive vehicles - so often it's a "car", "van" or "lorry" that is reported as having had an accident, not the person driving the vehicle.

Feedback from many of the parents I'm in contact with who cycle daily with their children is that they get abuse from other adults about their choice of mode of transport.  This is usually done in an aggressive way, in front of their children.

Again, these articles show that we're living in a society where the sight of a parent possibly struggling to get their child somewhere by bike is cause for such vilification and bile.

The real scandal isn't that one child may have been slightly at risk (no reports of any actual accident resulting from this incident have been made). The real scandals are, amongst other things, that there are so few sights like this on our streets;  that the majority to parents don't feel safe enough to be able to cycle with their children; that there are no obligations on local authorities and councils to provide safe, segregated infrastructure to allow families to get out their polluting cars and cycle instead; that an entire generation is growing up being transported everywhere encased in the highly polluted environment of a car, that is leading to a worrying rise in respiratory disease in children.

The world, I'm afraid, continues to be topsy-turvey.  Here's a little video to show you what an alternative reality, not far from our shores, looks like - Merry Christmas all!

Other articles you may like to read whilst you're here:

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