I’m sorry, but I just can’t this issue out of my head.
Every morning on our way to work, Chris and I pass-and endure near misses with-dozens, maybe even hundreds of kids riding their bikes to school.
These kids ride from near and far through the predawn darkness to be at school by 7 or 7:30 or 8:00am. We usually see the kids with extracurriculars (read: nearly all of them) biking home again at 7 or 8 or 9 at night. Again in the dark.
And its dark, dark people. Like middle of the night dark. Like, half of the streetlights don’t work dark.
And its not just bikes on the road, its cars. Lots of cars. Like more cars per capita than almost anywhere else in China. Most of these folks have very, very questionable driving skills.
We know. A guy once backed up 100 meters into the grill of our car going 15 mph just because he didn’t know how to use his reverse gear very well. Making a right turn from the far left lane going the wrong way on a one-way street? I’ve seen it happen so many times now that I barely flinch.
On top of the thousands of kids on bikes and the hundreds of cars, there are also hundreds of scooters on the road at this time of morning as well.
The scooters scare me the most. For some reason they are the greatest offenders when it comes to whipping through red lights at major intersections no matter how many times you honk to announce your (very large and red and scary) presence. While equipped with headlights, no one turns them on. Would waste the battery.
Now here’s where I get really freaked out. Those kids on bike? Not one of them has a bike-light. Not a single one of them has a helmet. None. I’ve never, ever seen one.
The little kids standing on the front of their mom and dad’s scooters? Ditto. No helmet, not even a seat-they usually stand between their parents legs. A lot of times mom and dad have a helmet but not the kid.
I’m not some crazy safety paranoid person. I don’t see anything wrong with a kid biking to school in the dark as long as they are careful and take some precautions.
In fact, I think its fantastic that all of these kids bike to school. They seem to enjoy it, their parents drive less, and they get some good exercise.
But to me, in this city, with this many insane drivers, and so many people operating so many motor vehicles with zero practical training, these kid’s daily pilgrimages to school-sans helmet, sans bike-light-seem almost suicidal.
I can understand that maybe 20 or even 10 years ago, there weren’t many cars, there weren’t any scooters on the road. The utility of a helmet probably seemed laughably negligible in relationship to its cost. Truly, people might not have needed them.
But now, I don’t think so. I can’t imagine that in a city of 13 million, every single kid gets to school safely every single day. I see way too many car accidents and scooter accidents and black eyes around town to believe that a kid on his bike is somehow immune from our dismal traffic safety records.
So why no helmets?!?! Why not even a light on the kid’s bike so we can see them coming!?!?
I know a piece of compressed styrofoam isn’t going to save every kid from injury and death and I know some kids will refuse to wear them, but come on! At least give your kid a fighting chance against the scary bad drivers in the fake BMWs out there!
I’ve literally NEVER seen one helmet on a kid despite living spitting distance from at least 3 different schools.
I know people here care deeply and fanatically about their kids. I know they love them. I know they work like hell to give them every advantage they possibly can.
So I just can not fathom why the uniform no-helmet thing for kids. We have them here. They aren’t outrageously expensive. If mom and dad are wearing them on their scooters, why not the kid?
Am I missing something here? Is there some cultural explanation that I’m not getting?
Or am I just a silly foreigner for having a coronary every time we turn a pre-dawn corner into a flock of helmet-less children?