Monday, September 5, 2011

The Nanny State Run Amok

The blog entry above tells the story of a mother, Teresa Tryon, in Elizabethton, TN who has been told by the police that she may be guilty of child neglect for letting her 10 year old daughter, a 5th grader, ride her bike to school, a trip of 7 - 9 minutes according to the mom. 

The story makes the specific point that Mrs. Tryon asked if her daughter had done anything wrong and was assured she had not.  Only Mrs. Tryon is accused of any wrong doing.  So that would seem to rule out riding on roads where cycling was specifically prohibited.

I don't spend much time in TN and have no personal knowledge of the town of Elizabethton.  I don't know this mom, I've not interviewed her nor the police to get both sides of the story.  So it's quite possible there are relevant details, such as vehicle speed along the girl's route, or the local crime rate, that have not yet come to light.

But in addition to the details above, here's what what I could find on Google...

The town of Elizabethton reports a population of 13,900 and change living in 5900 homes in an area of 9.5 square miles  A look at the map and Google Earth shows that New Stony Creek Rd on the east side of town appears to be the only road in town that has the travel lanes for each direction physically divided, a couple of other thorough fares run east to west across town and would likely support more than simple neighborhood traffic.

That leaves many, many blocks on a neat grid that look to be mostly residential.

If the girl rides at 9 - 10 mph (the speed my 10 year old son typically manages over any distance) that would mean her 7 - 9 min trip is between 1.17 and 1.35 miles.

My wife and I give our kids boundaries that let them ride a similar distance unsupervised in our neighborhood. Unfortunately a very busy 4 lane highway lies between our home and their school so the commute to school is not an option for our family.  But that seems unlikely to be the case in Elizabethton.

We have all kinds of negative trends in this country that would suggest biking or walking to school would be a good way to start addressing them: air pollution, dependence on foreign oil and childhood obesity come to mind as just a few.

What ever happened to the days when we let our kids assume more and more independence as they grow and trusted a parent's judgement to decide when and how to extend those boundaries?

I hope the police in Elizabethton either point out quickly to the Tryon's why Miss Tryon's cycling constitutes neglect by her mother or apologize to Mrs. Tryon and then go find some real public safety problems to solve.

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