A recent study reported that kids in the United States are no longer riding their bikes as much as they used to and the annual numbers continue to head downward, slipping further into less and less bike riding.
Besides this being a bad sign for the bicycle makers, especially since bike-riding tends to be acquired when young and then carried over into adulthood (thus, the pipeline is thinning), the other concern is that the lack of bike riding is not being replaced by some other equal or better physical activity. It would be one thing if kids opted to say go running or jogging or used the bike riding time to play a sport, but it appears that the bike riding time is giving over to (in essence) motionless sitting.
By motionless sitting, I mean that some claim that the youth of America are using their bike riding time to instead play online video games. Though playing a video game can exert some energy and spirit, most would concede that it is not the physical equivalent of the health benefits from riding a bike. Video game playing is a more so sedentary task, and beyond building up perhaps stronger finger muscles to manipulate the game controls, it seems doubtful that your child will have generated impressive ripped abs or tiger muscles after hours of Fortnite playing.
Apparently, the volume of kids regularly riding their bikes has decreased by about a million such children over the last four years. Sales of children’s bikes dropped by 7.5% in quantities sold over the last year. Regular biking is considered taking rides around your neighborhood, riding to the park or events, and also encompassed the heads-down competitive bike riding realm too. Per national stats, bike riding tends to be done in urban areas (71%), and slightly more so in daylight (51%) than in darkness.
Health and fitness proponents, along with bike makers and retailers, say that this disturbing trend of less bike riding should be a banner alerting us that that something needs to be done to get more kids on bikes. The idea is twofold, more kids riding bikes, plus kids riding their bikes more often.
I’d like to offer a modest proposal about why kids aren’t riding their bikes as much, along with a proposed solution that might be coming down the pike, namely, it has to do with human drivers as the problem and self-driving driverless cars as the solution.
Hear me out on this.
Scary To Ride A Bike In Today’s Driver Unfriendly Environment
When my children started riding their bikes, I realized that there was a big difference between riding bikes when I was a child and the current environment of riding on today’s traffic-clogged and traffic endangering streets.
The significant difference that I observed was the emergent wildness of human drivers in their cars, most of whom seem to no longer care much about bike riders, perhaps even more so kids on bikes (children are often lower profile than adults, can be harder to see or predict in terms of movement, and are less aware of being mindful of cars and wayward car drivers).
In an earlier era, it seemed that car drivers were conscientious about watching for and avoiding bicycle riders. Nowadays, just as drivers won’t pull over when they hear a siren or see an oncoming ambulance that is flashing its lights, it seems that the mainstay of drivers is also giving short shrift to bike riders.
In a bit of irony, or perhaps just plain infuriatingly, the growth of bike lanes does not seem to have prodded drivers to be more cautious about bike riders.
On a daily basis, I see drivers that weave into bike lanes. I see cars that decide to park in a bike lane, apparently because it is easy to do so since naturally the bike lane is otherwise free of any obstructions (duh!). All in all, it appears by informal observation that bike riders aren’t getting insufficient attention by car drivers. It is as though the painted line that demarks the bike lane is invisible, or maybe the line is an attractor for some drivers, but in any case, a marking on the street is not enough of a barrier to prevent a multi-ton car from being steered into the path of a bike rider, sadly so.
Going beyond my intuition, consider the statistics reported by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), which tracks and reports on bike related injuries and deaths.
The CDC’s latest available numbers are that about 1,000 bicyclists are killed each year in the U.S., and around 467,000 bicyclists are injured. Besides the human toll, the CDC also estimates that the dollar cost to our society is approximately $10 billion dollars as a result of medical expenditures and lost productivity in the aftermath of a biking incident.
I realize that you might be saying right now that you are a very safe driver and would never cut-off or barge into a bike rider. In fact, you might even be voicing a complaint that bike riders often are impolite, out-of-control, and do not abide by the rules of the road.
Let me make clear that I am not saying that all drivers are bike seeking monsters, and nor am I suggesting that all bike riders are blameless in terms of getting themselves into hot water. The world of bike riding is a two-way street, metaphorically meaning that the bike riders need to do their part in riding safely, just as the human drivers need to do so too.
In any case, I noticed that my children and their friends all realized the dangers of bike riding in today’s world, and it contributed, I believe, toward their hesitancy to go bike riding. Yes, even young kids can be that sensible.
How much did the push away from bike riding due to the fear of crazed car drivers add to the pull of spending time instead on playing video games? I can’t pin it down per se, though I think it is fair to assert that if bike riding was able to be done with much less looking over the shoulder, I’m pretty sure there would be a lot more biking riding going on.
Self-Driving Cars Might Be A Spur Toward Bike Riding
Let’s assume for a moment that we will ultimately have self-driving driverless cars.
I’m referring to autonomous cars, ones that have the AI system doing the driving and there is no human driving involved. Most of today’s modern cars require co-sharing of the driving task between the automation and a licensed human driver, considered Level 2 and Level 3 cars, while the hope is to eventually get to Level 4 and Level 5 as fully autonomous cars.
In theory, a properly developed, tested and fielded autonomous car will be as safe or presumably safer than human drivers. When it comes to respecting bike lanes, overall it would seem likely that the AI system would be more adherent to staying out of the bike lanes, and also be more attentive to the actions of bike riders.
As such, the increase in roadway safety might lure bike riders back onto the streets, including kids that could be newly introduced to bike riding that otherwise hadn’t tried it, and also for children that started bike riding but gave up in concern for getting injured or killed.
I know that some view this idea with either skepticism or argue that the point is actually counterintuitive.
If we really do end-up with self-driving cars, and those vehicles are readily prevalent, and they are relatively low in cost to use for ridesharing or ride-hailing purposes, it would lead one to assume that people, including kids, will ride bikes even less so than now, and will be using cars more so than now. Parents won’t need to drive their kids to school anymore since the autonomous car will take on that duty. Thus, the allure and ease of using a car will be so inviting that it will ruin any remaining impetus to go bike riding.
Well, yes, that could happen.
I’m going to use the glass-is-half-full viewpoint and claim that the enhanced roadway safety will spark parents and kids to revisit bike riding. Furthermore, the added convenience of sitting in a car to get someplace will be an instigator for parents to get their kids to do some kind of physical activity, including bike riding.
On top of that, the kids’ desire to use online video games might be somewhat satiated (if that’s possible) by being able to play while inside the driverless car, which will readily have fast internet access such as 5G. This could shift the time devoted to video game playing from the time periods when kids today are at-home playing online games to instead use some of that time for bike riding, regularly.
It could be the saving grace for a rejuvenation of getting more kids bike riding and more of the time.
Which do you think we’ll see:
• A continued downward spiral of kids not going bike riding, and for which this will hit rock bottom once the advent of self-driving cars arises (that’s the pessimistic view), or
• Perhaps optimistically, that the driverless car emergence will make our roads safer for bicycles and encourage kids to get outside and ride their bikes.
Though it’s a guess on my part, I’m going to keep my bikes in good shape and ready for a future when bike riding becomes a grand everyday activity, once again, fueled in some ways by the autonomous cars that will be cruising our roadways.