News Flash: Kids SAFER Than We Think!

Kudos to the Kansas City Star and reporters Eric Adler and Emily Van Zandt for their FRONT PAGE article tksszhfnfn
yesterday (sent to use here by many readers – thanks!):

“Statistics tell parents that the world is not so dangerous for their children”

Listen to this!

Despite the trepidation that naturally arises when releasing our kids into the big, bad world, statistics show that for the vast majority of American young people, their world isn’t as dangerous as it’s often made out to be.

Tragedies –  car crashes, serious sports injuries, childhood suicide, water accidents, to name a few — touch thousands of families every year. There’s no diminishing that hurt.

But for most people, in most situations, the odds are good that all will be fine.

The piece goes on to assess the odds of everything from football concussions (not so many) to stranger abductions (very, very few). In fact:

Of all the dangers to children, this is the one most alarming and the most frightening and probably the least likely to ever happen,” said Paula S. Fass, a University of California-Berkeley professor who wrote “Kidnapped: Child Abduction in America.”

The odds are about 1.5 in a million.

“We live in a nation where dramatic things capture our attention” Fass said of our fears about children. “They are sensationalized by the media and by our imaginations.

“But if you look at the statistics,” on whole, “our children are safe.”

So what is the most daring, dangerous thing our kids are doing? They are being driven around, in cars, by us:

A driving fear — cars: For most, putting a child in a car is the most death-defying act we perform every day.

Unintentional injuries, mostly car wrecks, are the leading cause of death for everyone between age 1 and 44, when cancer takes over, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s why, whenever anyone says to me, “Ooh, I could never let my child play outside because if anything terrible happened to him, I couldn’t live with myself!” I like to ask, “Well, do you ever drive him anywhere?”

If they say yes, I point out that doing so isn’t dangerous per se, but it is the top way kids die. So if they are willing to take THAT risk (which most parents are) why are they unwilling to take the far smaller risk of letting their kid play in the park, or bike to a friend’s house, or walk to school? Why do they immediately imagine a horrible abduction, but not a horrible car crash — when the car crash is far more likely? Why do they feel that parents who let their kids “Free-Range” are courting danger, while parents who chauffeur their kids are playing it safe?

It does get my goat. (Bahhhhhhhh!!)

Anyway, it was amazing and hopeful and exciting to see an article on the front page of a  big newspaper that, instead of hyping ever more hysteria, actually tried to put our fears in perspective. It’s one of the few “Back to school” stories that makes it sound as if  that’s what’s happening: Kids are going back to school. Not off to die unless we watch them 24/7, or at least throw a GPS monitor in their Spiderman backpack. — Lenore

47 Responses to News Flash: Kids SAFER Than We Think!

  1. Dave August 11, 2009 at 2:25 am #

    We love our cars so we don’t think about the danger. Children in the car are in our sight, giving us a false sense of control. My sister-in-law lives across the street from a school. Not only is it dangerous to drive your kids to the school trying to get them from the car to the school through the maze of other parents in cars doing the same is and nightmare. Families with children in grade school all live in walking distance to the school. I just don’t get this whole drive your kids to school thing at all.

  2. Eric Howe August 11, 2009 at 2:46 am #

    Rare events, such as abductions, stand out and get attention simply because they are rare. Car crashes happen every day so no one really thinks about them, they’re as common as dirt and just part of the day to day background noise.

  3. Jim Tubman August 11, 2009 at 3:22 am #

    Perhaps even the fears of death in motor vehicles are overblown. I looked at Canadian mortality figures for 2003 (Statistics Canada’s report on external causes of morbidity and mortality). For ages 0–14, death figures are:

    All causes (including sickness, congenital defects, injuries, etc.): 2,576
    All transport accidents (includes the 3 categories below): 150
    Pedestrians: 39
    Motor vehicle occupants: 31
    Pedal cyclists: 9

    I mention pedestrians and cyclists because the overwhelming majority of their deaths are due to being struck by motor vehicles.

    What I don’t know is the number of people aged 0–14 in Canada in 2003; in the 2006 census, there were 5.6 million people in that age group.

    By my reckoning, the odds of a child car occupant being killed in a road accident are slightly less than 6 in a million. This is about 4 times greater than the odds of being abducted and murdered by a stranger: and it is still pretty small.

    Once you get past the age of 14, things change. Males aged 15–24 are in a risk league of their own, and that is reflected in most external causes of death, not just motoring.

    It would be interesting to compare with American statistics, and ones from other countries.

  4. Corey August 11, 2009 at 3:49 am #

    Didn’t Volkswagon have a series of ads with young-ish people in a car when suddenly there’s some frightening accident? I remember a series of them.

    I vaguely remember my wife saying they had to pull the ads because people were complaining?

    Why don’t people complain about CSI (which I hate) and Criminal Minds (which I love)? Those are more shocking (not to mention fictional). Wouldn’t shocking young people with imagery of a car crash have long-term positive benefits?

    Anyway… what was I saying?

  5. SheWhoPicksUpToys August 11, 2009 at 3:59 am #

    People don’t believe that there’s REALLY a downside to not letting your kid play outside by himself. They’re fully aware of the dangers of cars, but they know the downside of not using their cars, so they make a rational choice to drive their kids around. They don’t really believe, though, that either not letting your kids outside, or needing them to be continually supervised (and usually by definition in need of constant intervention in their play) is all that bad. So, they think the rational decision is to limit their freedom for the sake of safety. If we want to change people’s thinking about this, I think that’s the key — calmly but effectively point out the real negatives of insufficient active, unstructured play (and work!) by kids.

  6. Jen August 11, 2009 at 4:00 am #

    We live in countries where the Car is King; how many times have you heard someone say “I couldn’t live without mine!” or “I wouldn’t know what to do without it!” Noone wants to point out the dangers of being in the car with your kids because that’d be bad for business.

    Thinking of car accidents and bikes, last night coming home from my inlaws (with our son in the carseat next to me) we saw a guy with a bike trailer riding down a fairly busy road. In the bike trailer was a roughly 1 year old boy NOT WEARING A HELMET. I just about had a fit. The cyclist wasn’t wearing a helmet either and there they were pedaling down the street together. I didn’t know what to do, didn’t have a cell phone and was just floored. I couldn’t believe somone could be so utterly irresponsible with their baby’s life. 🙁

  7. SheWhoPicksUpToys August 11, 2009 at 4:01 am #

    It’s gonna be a long time before Parents’ Magazine starts printing full-length articles on the developmental value of letting your kids roam the neighborhood and get a few bruises, but that’s what’s going to have to happen, or so ISTM.

  8. cagey August 11, 2009 at 4:16 am #

    I live in the Kansas City metro! I am more afraid of nosy people poking around in my business, calling child services than of my children actually getting harmed. Seriously, we get comments for letting our kids play on the sidewalk in our front YARD. Even if we are up in the garage.

  9. wellcraftedtoo August 11, 2009 at 4:30 am #

    Nicely encouraging post.

    Being married to a physician who specializes in the treatment of brain injury, I was all too aware when my kids were little that every time I buckled them into their car seats I was taking a hefty risk with their safety (and mine!).

    I recall getting into similar discussions like the one you describe above, and being met with incredulous looks.

    Why are we so willing to take car -related risks with our kids, but balk at other activities that are much safer? A friend hit the nail on the head many years ago when she said, in reply to my concern with driving my little ones, “I can’t possibly afford to let myself dwell on that!” In other words, driving is such an integral part of our lives that we just don’t allow ourselves to really think about its dangers.

    The rather discouraging thing is that now my two kids are 20 and nearly 23, I still worry as much, if not more, every time they get into a car! This gets worse, considerably worse, when they start driving themselves, or being driven by their peers, of course. Add alcohol, late night hours, fatigue, weekend driving conditions into the picture, and bam!, risk climbs sky-high.

    It did occur to me last week when my youngest turned 20 that we had passed some risk assessment/insurance benchmark, and every year that they get a little older that becomes more and more true.

    But the worry never ends, right? (my daughter recently traveled two-thirds around the globe, my son is climbing mountains, and the son of a friend is in the military and heading to the MIddle East) and at some point as parents one simply lets go–or lets go a bit more, and a bit more, until suddenly you realize you’ve ‘turned it over’, you really can not control them, or their lives, or their safely.

    They’ve grown up! You did it. Just keep fingers crossed anyway!

  10. Alexicographer August 11, 2009 at 4:30 am #

    It’s great that the article Lenore quotes here got written and I am in agreement with the basic point/perspective expressed by Lenore & (e.g.) the lovely comment by SheWhoPicksUpToys, above.

    But … if we want to compare the risks of (e.g.) driving in a car versus walking, it is not enough to know that ### people died in car accidents last year, whereas ### people died while walking. What we need to know, in addition, is how many people were engaged in each activity and for how long.

    Just to take the numbers provided in Jim Tubman’s comment above and provide an oversimplified example, suppose that 1,000 people each drove for 100 hours over the course of a year, and that 31 of them died. Now suppose that 1,000 people each walked for 10 hours a year and that 31 of them died. There are fewer deaths of pedestrians, but the death-per-person-hour-walked is much, much higher. If we are assuming a causal link between the activity people are engaged in and their deaths, then (in the case of this example), walking is much more dangerous than driving in a car.

    I have no idea what the actual comparative risk is, and as anyone who reads my comments regularly knows, I’m a fan of walking and cycling, and of building communities that foster these activities. But having a gut sense that a lot of people (myself included) in the US spend a lot of hours in cars, knowing that the number of people who die walking or cycling each year is lower than the number of people who die in cars does not reassure me as to the relative safety of walking or cycling compared to driving (or riding) in a car.

  11. Rich Wilson August 11, 2009 at 4:31 am #


    My son is very well encased in his trailer. If we have a minor accident, his head is not going to hit anything. If we are struck by a car at enough speed to crush the trailer, then a helmet isn’t going to make a difference. I think whiplash would be the greatest danger, but a helmet won’t prevent that.

    My son wears his helmet when in the trailer, but that’s more about teaching to be used to it than any actual safety. And yes, I wear one too, and it drives me nuts when parents don’t wear them, but expect their children to.

    You say you didn’t have a cell phone. I hope you wouldn’t have made a call while driving. That IS dangerous. And I’m not sure that any state laws about children wearing helmets apply to children in trailers, so I’m not sure who you would call.

  12. wellcraftedtoo August 11, 2009 at 4:38 am #

    Addendum to my above comment re letting go of young adult children: Keep your fingers crossed and, as a friend said (when my oldest traveled to an poor, politically unstable nation) pray that all your hard work raising them has resulted in their having got their heads screwed on straight!

  13. Alexicographer August 11, 2009 at 4:48 am #

    Rich (& Jen) —

    I wouldn’t characterize my son as “well encased” in his trailer and can easily imagine accidents not involving his trailer getting crushed by a car (god forbid), where obviously the helmet would be useful, but involving us getting clipped and him getting flung. It’s true that it’s hard to imagine him getting flung free of the trailer, but all that’s between his head and asphalt (absent a helmet, which he wears) is a thin sheet of nylon, if the trailer capsizes.

    There’s some interesting information about the pros and cons of different ways to transport small children via bicycle, here:

  14. Jen August 11, 2009 at 5:44 am #

    all that’s between his head and asphalt (absent a helmet, which he wears) is a thin sheet of nylon, if the trailer capsizes.
    That’s exactly why I was freaking out. I’m pretty sure up here it’s manditory if you’re transporting your child by bicycle they have to be wearing a helmet. This isn’t a case of one parent pointing a finger at another for putting thier kid in a ‘dangerous’ situation, like that poor woman who went to court for letting her kids and another 12 year old go to the mall, but an actual case of one mom (me) looking at another parent’s actions putting a child in actual danger and saying to herself “What should I have done? What could I have done?” I wasn’t driving at the time, nor do I own a cellphone, so my options were nil. By the time I realized what was going on we were already passed him and the trailer and my brother in law was laughing at me for being so worried.

  15. Chris H August 11, 2009 at 7:07 am #

    Just in time for the penultimate Free Range Kid’s birthday – the Famous Five author Enid Blyton was born today!
    If only the article had included ‘chances of being kidnapped by smugglers’ or ‘chances of discovering a wrecked pirate ship’ then it would have been in the true spirit!

  16. MikeOnBike August 11, 2009 at 7:38 am #

    Regarding helmets and trailers: In California, children are required to wear helmets in trailers. This is a fairly recent change. But I agree with Rich that this is more about training kids to wear helmets than it is about protecting kids from any plausible collision.

    The trailers are designed to be very difficult to tip over. And if that should happen, there’s a roll cage. And straps similar to what’s in a child’s car seat.

    This is a perfect example of “kids safer than we think”. There’s no reason to panic about a kid in a trailer, helmet or not.

  17. David August 11, 2009 at 8:05 am #

    I took a course in risk for my graduate engineering degree. One thing we learned was that people weigh their perceived control over a situation just as importantly as the actual risk. Hence the reason many people “intuitively” feel that driving is safer than flying, even though it’s completely the opposite. People feel that they have control over driving, but not flying, even if the odds tell them it is still more dangerous. The more specialized something is, the higher the bar it has to hurdle to be accepted, no matter what the actual risk level is (see, for example, nuclear power versus coal burning). Similarly, parents feel that driving their kids is something they are in control over, and stranger danger is something they have no control over, so they are less willing to accept the risk even though it is smaller.

  18. Uly August 11, 2009 at 8:08 am #

    You know, people who are accustomed to cars think cars are safe.

    I walk, bus, or ferry everywhere. Once in the city, I take the train. I *never* am in a car – and when I am I’m constantly thinking “are we going to fast? Is this the speed cars go at? Did my friend just take her eyes off the road to yell at her kid? Seriously?”

    The fact that automobile accidents are the leading cause of death for Americans doesn’t make me feel any better about it either, though I know that logically the odds of me dying in any particular drive (especially safely buckled in, which I always have insisted upon, even when I was a small child) are slim.

    I just feel safer in a big ol’ bus. Bus crashes with a car, you KNOW the people on the bus ain’t the ones getting hurt.

  19. Jen August 11, 2009 at 8:50 am #

    The trailers are designed to be very difficult to tip over. And if that should happen, there’s a roll cage. And straps similar to what’s in a child’s car seat.

    This is a perfect example of “kids safer than we think”. There’s no reason to panic about a kid in a trailer, helmet or not.
    Seriously? I’d love some reading material on that because I know mine doesn’t have a ‘roll cage’.

  20. sylvia_rachel August 11, 2009 at 8:54 am #

    Hooray for that article! May there be many more like it in the near future!

    I find it very interesting that people sympathize with someone who’s afraid of flying but laugh (or simply stare blankly) at someone who doesn’t like riding in cars. My own mother considers the fact that I have never learned to drive “a handicap” — which it sort of is when I’m visiting her in her not-very-transit-friendly city, but totally isn’t in the city where I actually live.

    Not that I ever made a conscious decision, based on reasoned risk assessment, not to learn to drive; in fact, I moved here when I was 18, having not yet got around to learning, and then, realizing how (comparatively) easy it is to get around my new city without a car, just never bothered. And now I’m 35. And my husband, who has been driving since he was 18, choose not to replace his last car (a ’91 Dodge) when it died three years ago, and now we belong to a car share and drive only a few times a month. And he’s become a hilariously enthusiastic evangelist of car-sharing ;).

    Er … what was my point, again? Oh, yes: most people in North America, outside the largest cities, have never in their lives had an opportunity to see what it’s like to live without their cars and not be grossly inconvenienced in their daily lives as a result. Once you do have such opportunity, you start to realize that there are a lot of benefits to not driving everywhere — starting with not needing to pay for petrol, insurance, repairs, etc., but also including getting more exercise, learning more about your neighbourhood (and your neighbours), and … feeling safer. At least, I feel extremely safe walking and riding the bus and the subway in my city.

  21. Rich Wilson August 11, 2009 at 9:35 am #

    I have a Burley single that actually did tip over when the previous owner had it. As the mom related to me, dad (the cyclist) and son thought it was a blast, and nobody was hurt. No car was involved.

    Now that I think about it, having two kids in there might be a risk of heads banging. But really, if the thing rolled, he’d stay at the center of it. It’s not a roll cage in that it will withstand the full impact of a car. But if the cage crushes, a helmet isn’t going to make any difference. I actually think that unless trapped between a car and an object, (FSM forbid) the trailer is more likely to bounce away, which could be pretty damaging via whiplash.

    And I must admit, I have made exceptions to the helmet rule, in particular when it’s very hot out and even with his own supply of ice water, I think the risk of him getting too hot outweighs the benefit of having the helmet on in the trailer.

    Not that I haven’t been horrified by parental behavior. There was the guy I saw riding against traffic with a toddler perched on his handlebars. No kid seat, no helmets, nada.

    And sorry about the cell phone assumption. I’ve just seen a lot of drivers using them, even for texting, and that one really does anger me.

  22. MaeMae August 11, 2009 at 9:41 am #

    I agree with SWPUT. People rationalize what makes their life easier. I think this also makes a case for the post before this one. Riding in a car has nothing at all to do with the kids decision or independence, it’s all about the parent. Whereas going out on a bike by yourself in the big bad world is fraught with dangers that the parent cannot control. If we can’t trust our child to know if he’s cold enough to need a jacket how in the world can we expect him to deal with crossing streets on a bike? Cars are not dangerous because the parent is in control. Until this line of thinking changes the physical freedoms for kids will not change.

  23. MikeOnBike August 11, 2009 at 12:10 pm #

    Jen said “I’d love some reading material on that because I know mine doesn’t have a ‘roll cage’.”

    Ours is a Burley d’Lite:

    The “Download Sales Sheet (PDF)” link says: “Durable light-weight
    aluminum frame. Provides a full roll cage.”

  24. Bob Davis August 11, 2009 at 4:24 pm #

    I think that many drivers look upon their cars as the knights of old looked upon their suits of armor: protection against hostile forces. They look upon the world as a place full of people and things that are out to get you. One can also make an analogy between a car and a cowboy’s horse, helping him cover long distances that would be impractical on foot, and always ready to go at a moment’s notice (or at the call of “giddyup!”) . Many years ago I worked at a railroad shop complex, where there was a big sign by the parking lot exit gate: “You are now entering the most dangerous part of your workday–Driving home on the streets and highways. Buckle up and drive defensively!”

  25. Dorota Konowrocka August 11, 2009 at 5:52 pm #

    It suddenly came to my mind altough it is not exactly to the topic of dying in cars. People do not let their kids out alone any more because they are afraid that some people will think 1. a/ they are bad parents, who neglect their children, b/ they are unfit to take care of their own kids, c/ kids should be taken away from them for their own good. 2. a/ they want these other people to take care of their kids or at least take a look at them or maybe even react in an uncertain situation, b/ which is unacceptable in highly individualistic culture, where you are not supposed to rely on others.

    My kids live free lives, but I am completely aware that this is only because we live in a VERY small village (the appropiate word is probably hamlet), we know our neighbors and they know us, we visit each other frequently and I know that if my kids will suddenly appear at their gates, they will smile and say “Hi, come in, we just baked delicious cookies, I will send a message to your mother to say you are here. And if the kids cut their hand on a broken cup (like it happened lately) they will not say “Where have you been then??” but “Oh, when I was a boy I cut my arm to the bone”. This atmosphere of understanding, consent, sympathy is very important.

    If I knew there is someone out there who may wish me unwell and may be the cause of kids being taken from me, things would be different.

    And about this second point I mentioned: When people have big families they accept as natural an occurrence of any additional kid from the neighborhood and they accept the PRESENCE of kids around them. They are used to it and they know kids do not have to be watched over all the time, but at the same time they know how to check upon them from time to time to be effective as a guardian. They just see what is going on without consiously putting effort into it or they know what can happen and how far they can trust their kids. They are skillful as kids-care-takers. If people have only one kid and even this one almost all the time at school, they are anxious while being around kids, because they do not understand them any more (or maybe never had). And they tend to think that adding to their anxiety by leaving your own kid in front of their eyes without you taking care of it is just an unacceptable burden and obligation. More and more couples have only one kid.

  26. Molly August 11, 2009 at 9:30 pm #

    I live in the KC area, and I was glad to see the article too. Just the day before, I was talking with a friend about the whole fear hysteria that’s out there, and she said, “yes, but if there is a .01% chance (insert whatever fear you want here)…” and I brought up that driving around in a car is far more dangerous, and she did concede I had a good point. Good to be vindicated (on the front page no less!) the very next day!

    Of course, the paper isn’t perfect. In the style section today was the article on how sleep overs are becoming passe due to all the parental fears. Sigh.

  27. Alexicographer August 11, 2009 at 11:34 pm #

    MikeonBike (setting aside for the moment the prospect of having 2 kids inside) is the harness in the Burley d’lite really secure enough that a kid seated in it would stay harnessed and off the ground if it tipped over sideways? The harness in my (Schwinn) trailer certainly isn’t. And while I don’t have the specs of the Schwinn in front of me, I see that the Burley is 26.5 inches wide. So if we assume my son’s bottom is 6 inches wide and he’s seated in exactly the middle, there is 10 inches to either side of him; if the trailer tips, he’s well over 10″ long from hip-to-head, so I’d expect his head to hit the road immediately. I’d certainly expect this in my Schwinn (which does also have what I guess might be called a “roll cage,” but I certainly wouldn’t count on it to function as such because of the problem already noted — a roll cage only works if you’re securely strapped far enough away from it not to run into it). There is no way the Schwin harness (the “lapbelt” to which is simply a nylon strap that runs from one side to the other — so it can go across 1 kid, or 2; while it can be snugged, he could slide from one side of the trailer to the other underneath it. And as there’s no cross-chest strap to secure the shoulder harness in the Schwinn either, I don’t really count on those straps for much, beyond reducing wriggling to a manageable level).

  28. MikeOnBike August 12, 2009 at 12:06 am #

    The Burley has a double shoulder belt, like in a child’s car seat. One strap over each shoulder hooks to a strap between their legs. Plus a lap belt.

    As Rich noted, it’s apparently possible to tip one of these trailers if you try hard enough, and it’s also possible to walk away unscathed after doing it.

    But how likely is it? How often does that actually happen?

    Before I start panicking about towing my kids at the blistering speed of 15 MPH, I’d like to see some real numbers. I suspect being a car passenger at 25+ MPH is more dangerous.

    That’s one of the ongoing messages of this blog, that we should assess risk with real data, not with our own fears.

  29. Rich Wilson August 12, 2009 at 12:14 am #

    Burleys use a 3 point harness plus a lap belt. To me it looks better made than his car seat harness. If the trailer tips, I have no concern that he’ll hit anything but air, so long as I have the harness firm.

  30. Alexicographer August 12, 2009 at 1:20 am #

    MikeOnBike, Rich, thanks. I’ll have to take a look at a Burley next time I’m near one; certainly sounds better made than my Schwinn (should be, considering the price difference!).

    As to Mike’s questions & comments —

    But how likely is it? How often does that actually happen?

    Likely enough that I think it’s worth putting a helmet on my son before I put him in a trailer, and would encourage others to do the same.

    Before I start panicking about towing my kids at the blistering speed of 15 MPH, I’d like to see some real numbers. I suspect being a car passenger at 25+ MPH is more dangerous.

    I’d guess we’re trying to compare apples to oranges.

    I’m assuming that my son is strapped in in both places.

    If I take the bike + trailer on a smoothish off-road location, versus a car, my guess would be that they are roughly equally safe as long as my son has a helmet on. Given our area (hilly and heavily wooded), I can imagine a bike or some other object leading to tippage of the trailer, so that’s not out of the question and yes, I do worry about damage to his brain were the trailer to tip with no helmet on.

    The car encases us in metal and we’re very securely strapped in, but of course other cars (etc.) could do something stupid, so perhaps we’re roughly equally safe (or in danger) as compared to being on the bike.

    Put the bike on the road (even in a bike lane) and I’ll put my money on the car for safety every time. Not to say that I don’t bike; I do. But multiply the threats other cars pose to my car by 100 or more in terms of dangers to my bike — it’s smaller and less visible, and it, I, and my son are much more vulnerable when we’re on it.

  31. Alexicographer August 12, 2009 at 1:27 am #

    I did a quick search to see if I could pull up data on bike versus car safety and found this:

    How many cyclists die

    Risk of death from cycling compared to driving. This is difficult to calculate because we don’t know the number of bicycle miles traveled in the U.S. annually, because the sources disagree so strongly:

    150 billion

    Consumer Product Safety Commission “Bicycle Study (PDF)” (doc. #344), 1991. States 67M cyclists riding 15B hours. Frankly, this figure is not very believable.
    6 to 21 billion

    U.S. Dept. of Trans. / Fed. Hwy Admin. “The Environmental Benefits of Bicycling and Walking”, 1993
    6.2 billion

    Bureau of Transportation Statistics, National Household Travel Survey, 2001

    So we’ll compare risk at both the 6.2 billion and 21 billion miles traveled levels.

    784 cyclists died in 2005 (p. 86). That would make the death rate 0.37 to 1.26 deaths per 10 million miles.

    33,041 motorists/passengers died (p. 86) from 3 trillion miles traveled (p. 15), making their death rate 0.11 per 10 million miles traveled.

    So cyclists are either 3.4x or 11.5x as likely to die as motorists, per passenger mile. Neither conclusion is very happy.

    However, all these figures include people who ride dangerously, such as against traffic, at night without lights, on sidewalks, or through red lights/stop signs without adequately checking cross-traffic. A study in Washington State found that 11% cycling fatalities involved wrong-way riding. Subtracting out 11% of the nationwide deaths, we find that cyclists who don’t ride against traffic are 3x to 10.2x more likely to get killed than motorists.

    More than 80% of fatalities for child bicyclists 14 and under were caused by unsafe riding (riding the wrong way, running signs, etc.), However, I can’t subtract out those fatalities, because then I’d be counting some wrong-way fatalities twice, since I already subtracted out wrong-way riding for all cyclists above.

    I would like to subtract out fatalities where the cyclist was riding at night without lights, or riding on the sidewalk, or ran a traffic signal, but I can’t find the data. If you can find the percent of fatalities (not crashes) caused by these things, please share!

    (All figures from NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts 2005 (PDF) except where otherwise linked. The BTS gives a slightly different figure for car passenger miles, 2.7 trillion. )


    (Note: further down the same page, it reports, “Health benefits of [exercise while] cycling outweigh the risks” — though of course, those benefits wouldn’t extend to kids in trailers. Again, I’m not saying we shouldn’t bike. Quite the contrary! Mike and I are completely on the same page about this: we should assess risk with real data, not with our own fears. I do believe (based on the data) that biking is more dangerous (on average and grossly oversimplifying) than riding in my car, but I also think it is “safe enough” that I engage in it — and take my 2.5 year old along for the ride).

  32. Rich Wilson August 12, 2009 at 1:28 am #

    Alexicographer, I got my Burley for $75 on craigslist.

    And yes, simple physics favors the car. But I get a lot less grief from drivers when I have the trailer. It’s kind of like pushing a stroller-it has a magic effect on cars at crosswalks.

    Just be sure not to piss off any gun-wielding-firemen 😉

  33. MikeOnBike August 12, 2009 at 2:08 am #

    Alexicographer said “I’d guess we’re trying to compare apples to oranges.”

    Yes, we’re comparing “crashworthiness” and “risk”. We’ve spent the last few decades making our cars more crashworthy: seat belts, air bags, crumple zones, etc.

    By comparison, pedestrians and cyclists are not very crashworthy. Which makes crash avoidance more important. The good news is that an alert, informed cyclist can avoid a large percentage of potential crashes, greatly improving their odds compared to the total population of cyclists:

    We also need to consider both the severity and the likelihood of the risk. This blog is full of stories of worrying about very severe, but very unlikely, risks.

  34. Alexicographer August 12, 2009 at 2:34 am #

    Rich, good deal on the Burley. Actually there’s one listed on “my” Craigslist right now for $145, though I’ve typically seen them listed for more (disclaimer: I am bright enough to realize that listing price isn’t necessarily sale price ;)). I paid $100 for my Schwinn, new.

    Rich and Mike, honestly not only do I think we are comparing apples to oranges, I think we’re splitting hairs. That is, personally I feel that both cycling and driving in a car are “safe enough” that I am willing to engage in them (I am *much* more cautious about where I cycle than where I drive, though). However, in the “informed choices” vein I do believe in using real data (to the extent that such are available) just as I believe we should all make our own decisions (so you’ll note I’m not saying that I think cycling or riding in a car are safe enough for you … you’ll need to decide that for yourselves! Though a downside to that approach, and something we haven’t taken up here, is that we are to some extent dealing with a collective action problem, i.e., cycling would be safer if more people did more of it. But perhaps we’ve split enough hairs already today!)

  35. Jim Tubman August 12, 2009 at 2:45 am #

    This thread seems to be veering off into a discussion of cycling and helmets. People might be interested in this link regarding the promotion of walking helmets in Denmark:

    This makes perfect sense, if you think about it. I’m most familiar with Canadian statistics, and they show that for every dead cyclist, there are 15 dead pedestrians (6 from road accidents, and 9 from the types of trips and falls that occur while walking or running). There is a much greater potential for saving lives if pedestrians were to wear helmets, compared to having cyclists wear them.

  36. Alexicographer August 12, 2009 at 3:40 am #

    Jim, good point (though again, number of incidents is not that informative without data on how many people were engaged in the activity). While we’re veering off topic ;), I’ll add that when I’m not busily helmeted riding my bicycle, I like to be busily helmeted riding my horse. There is an argument among equestrians that we should wear our helmets while dismounted, too (horses being plenty unpredictable and dangerous whether you’re on or beside them), and I don’t doubt that this is true (I also don’t do it).

    My elderly dad for awhile took to wearing a helmet while driving his car (I am not making this up) but fortunately (for all our safety, his own included) is no longer driving — I say that not (at all) as a jab against elderly drivers, but his vision and response time had declined enough that he, individually, was no longer a safe driver.

  37. Jim Tubman August 12, 2009 at 4:24 am #

    The best data I have for numbers of pedestrians and cyclists in Canada is about 31 million pedestrians and 12 million cyclists (the latter from a phone survey; sounds awfully high to me but government transport departments here don’t care enough to measure cycling activities). Adjusted for participation, that give about 5 pedestrian deaths per cyclist death. I wish that we had data for amount of exposure by time and distance, like the British do.

    I do know that the average number of cycling deaths per year in Canada is 69, out of a population of about 33 million. That’s about 2 per million per year, folks: just a touch higher than the risk of a child being abducted and murdered by a stranger, which is considered a tiny risk in this forum. Did you know it was that low? The American and British figures are about the same.

    If you look at hospital admission statistics for head injuries, you find even more interesting data.

    Taken together, ordinary trips and falls, injuries to motor vehicle occupants and motorcycle riders, and assaults account for 89% of head injuries serious enough to warrant hospital admission.

    All the activities for which helmets are recommended, with the exception of motorcycling, fall into a subset of the remaining 11%.

  38. Jen August 12, 2009 at 4:24 am #

    My only point was, 1 year old child in a bike trailer, I don’t care how fantastically amazingly made it is, should be wearing a helmet. The risk, to me, is too great to even consider otherwise. My kid in a bike trailer vs. the road (if it tipped), or a car, or a motorcycle, or hell, even another bike-my kid is going to LOSE. I want him to have the best chance possible to survive without serious and/or long term damage, and that means wearing a helmet, every time.

  39. singlemom August 12, 2009 at 6:48 am #

    Jim Tubman said: “Taken together, ordinary trips and falls, injuries to motor vehicle occupants and motorcycle riders, and assaults account for 89% of head injuries serious enough to warrant hospital admission.”

    Just wondering how many of the motor vehicle occupants in your statistic were wearing a seatbelt? If you are thrown from the car, or within the car during an accident, and you are not wearing a seatbelt, your odds of a head injury is pretty much guaranteed.

  40. Jim Tubman August 12, 2009 at 7:10 am #

    singlemom: that is a good question. The data I have read suggests that in most jurisdictions where a seat belt law is passed and enforced (which is most of North America and Europe), compliance is usually above 90%. It does not seem likely that all those motoring head injuries are suffered solely by the tiny unbelted minority.

    People who are really interested in road safety information would find the work of Prof. John Adams (University College London) of interest. His most recent book is entitled “Risk” and covers a lot of the issues of interest in this forum. An older (1985) work of his, on road safety specifically, is available for free online at

    Chapter 5 is an eye-popper.

  41. singlemom August 12, 2009 at 7:52 am #

    10% of the US population is a significant number – well into the several millions of people. But, as far as I can tell, your statistic is not referencing the actual number of all motor vehicle drivers, rather it is referencing a percentage of the number of people admitted to hospitals for sustaining a serious head injury.

  42. Layne August 14, 2009 at 10:38 am #

    The irony of this, is that 2 days after this story ran in the KC Star ran an article on sleepover, and parents who will not let their kids go on them because of the fear that something will happen to them in someone else’s home. One mom who was interview swore her now 4 year old would never go on a sleepover, because there would never be a family she would trust with her child over night..

    Yeah, with a mom like that, she won’t have to worry about it, because no one will ever invite her.

  43. phones August 17, 2009 at 1:58 am #

    cant beleive these words

  44. Rich Wilson August 26, 2009 at 1:24 am #

    I know this is way old now, but for anyone interested in the ‘children and bike trailers’ topic, there’s lots of good info here and in the comments:

  45. erd August 30, 2009 at 8:13 pm #

    nice story & information.thanks


  1. » The Spectrum of Free-Range Parenting - August 12, 2009

    […] don’t really want to be. I think I’m too high-anxiety for that. But every time she puts entries like this on her blog, I’m reminded that I also don’t want to be that Mom panicking about her son […]

  2. Are we making our children sick? - PPRuNe Forums - September 24, 2009

    […] Cessna puppy, those rose tinted spectacles fitting OK? The overwhelming majority of harm committed to children is perpetrated by family members, relatives and "friends" of the family. No debate. So, a reasonable arugment that keeping them at home exposes them to more risk of the really terrible things that can happen. Attacks by strangers, especially from paedophiles, have consistenly fallen. Only the media, ably supported by incompetent government (oh, if only Diana was alive) have managed to whip up the hysteria and induce harumphing and coughing fits over the cornflakes to reinforce the nonsense about how much better it was when we were kids…. BTW, the NSPCC are my favourite charity and they have given me enough information to know that I am both sickened by what people are capable of doing to children and also that kids playing outisde is a safer proposition than it's ever been. Here are a few links. You'll struggle to find anything to refute it. Historians, criminlogists, psychologists, sociologists, police chiefs, teachers – all are in agreement. Safer than than ever and to behave otherwise is damaging to our children and our future. Our children are safer than they've ever been before: But the scare-mongering media don't ever mention it | Article from Male View | HighBeam Research http://media-dis-n-dat.*************…than-ever.html Parenting Without Fear. Our kids are safer than ever. So why are we still afraid? By "Free Range Kids" author Lenore Skenazy for News Flash: Kids SAFER Than We Think! FreeRangeKids […]