A bicycle is innocence itself. It’s fun and it’s practical. It belches no exhaust, pollutes no air, poisons no lungs. It keeps you fit and causes no traffic jams. It’s friendly. We master it in earliest childhood. Why must we graduate to the automobile? Would the environment be in the dire shape it’s in if we didn’t?
Who doesn’t remember his or her first bicycle? Or his or her child’s? Watching your little one hit the road for the first time, how can you help reliving your own first heady taste of freedom as you pedaled off all those years and decades ago?
Before your eyes mist over, we come now to the dark side of the bicycle. It does have one, Shukan Josei (Aug 6) reminds us. Better teach your kids a few hard facts of life before turning them loose on one. A bicycle carelessly driven is a potentially lethal weapon. And when the case ends up in court, guess who’s in the dock? The parents, of course.
Here’s a horror story that will send shudders up any parent’s spine. In September 2008, a Kobe fifth grader, his mind on something other than the road in front of him, rode his bike straight into a pedestrian in her 60s. She remains in a coma to this day. The case took five years to wind its way through the courts. When it did, the boy’s mother was ordered to pay the victim’s family 95 million yen in damages. She had not, the court ruled, given her son adequate supervision or instruction in road safety.
You don’t generally think of a bicycle doing major damage even if there is an accident. A few scratches, an apology, and that’s the end of it – right? Usually. Not always. Shukan Josei provides no figures to show how widespread a problem major bike accidents are, but its Kobe anecdote is one of several. Another, from Yokohama, concerns a senior high school girl who, riding at night without a light and focused on her cell phone, hit a 57-year-old woman, causing multiple lasting injuries. The court-imposed settlement: 50 million yen.
Under the law, a bicycle is a “light vehicle” – not a toy, warns Takayasu Kamo, a lawyer who serves as an adviser to the Japan Cycling Association. That means it entails responsibilities. For example: if you knock somebody down and flee, it’s not just bad manners. It’s hit and run. The law requires that you render what assistance you can and report the matter to the police.
“Most children run away,” says Kamo. Panic is understandable but is no excuse.
“Make sure your children understand: No riding under an umbrella; no riding while playing with a cell phone,” Kamo counsels. “No double-riding. No headphones. Teach them the basic rules of the road” – or risk facing dire consequences, as a mother in Kobe learned to her cost.
One final word to the wise from Kamo. Sometimes the most diligent training, the most thorough precautions, even the most careful and skilful riding, is no match for blind circumstance, and the worst happens anyway. His advice is: be insured.© Japan Today