Sunday, December 26, 2010

Freedom Denied

My oldest grandson got a new bike for Christmas.  My son and I picked it out.  When I was his age I got my first bike.  It was a Schwin and painted the same color as our 1955 Buick - green.   The bike gave me an incredible amount of freedom that I had never experienced before.  All of a sudden I could ride to the YMCA - which was a couple of miles away.   When our family moved to Bakersfield a couple of years later, I frequently would go off riding for almost the whole day.  At one point, a friend and I rode out about 20 miles and then turned round and went back.  That offered an accomplishment for me which was kept in my memory.

Our second grandson got his first hot wheels.  When our kids were young they both rode hot wheels all around the neighborhood.  I also built them a wagon - which had a fairly sophisticated steering system and also engraved their names on the side panels.  Some jerk stole the wagon one afternoon we were out.  That probably would not have happened when I was a kid.

Times have changed.  Now before a kid goes out on a bike - they need to get a helmet.  Indeed, we have probably reduced the number of serious injuries on bicycles.  (There were under 800 fatalities on bikes in 2005 which means that per passenger mile fatalities occur about 3-11 times that in cars - which means that even at the higher number bike fatalities are extremely rare.)  Even if you concede the benefits of helmets, it is still a lot less possible for a child to explore with a bike.  This afternoon we took our two grandsons to a park where they could ride around - off the streets.  For the younger one that is logical but when I was that age I might well have been able to ride from my house over to the park with out a worry and without worrying my parents.

So what do you do about those changes?  First, I am (unsurprisingly) resistant to calls for safety on things like bike helmets.  The imposition of state authority may have secondary effects that are greater than the benefits of safer kids.   Second, you end up living with many of those changes because the reality is the apparent safety of earlier times, is simply not present in today's world.   Even with that conclusion, I wonder a bit whether these minor limits on freedom have longer term implications for our future citizens.

No comments: