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4-Year-Old Guilty of Negligence on Bicycle 7

Boy with bike

Photo courtesy of Michelle Ress (via Flickr)

In April 2009, a 4-year-old girl and her friend were racing their bicycles under the supervision of their respective mothers in New York. The children ran into an 87-year-old lady which caused the elderly lady to fall and fracture her hip. She then underwent hip surgery and died 3 months later.

The deceased woman’s son is now suing the children for being “negligent in their operation and control of their bicycles” as well as their mothers for consenting to allow their children to race their bicycles.

According to court filings, the judge looked for precedent in determining if a four-year-old should be negligent in this particular situation based on the child’s intelligence and maturity.

Although the filings found conflicting decisions in past cases involving child negligence, it nevertheless concluded that these children should be held accountable for their actions and that they should have understood the risk their bicycle riding posed to the elderly woman.

“There are no exhibits containing evidence as to the defendant-movant’s lack of intelligence or maturity, nor are there any other mitigating factors apparent in the record that would indicate that another child of similar age and capacity under the circumstances could not have reasonably appreciated the danger of riding a bicycle into an elderly woman.”

Of course, the bigger issue at hand here is the lack of safe bicycle infrastructure in North America which results in children feeling rightfully compelled to ride on the sidewalk to stay clear of the danger of automobiles.

At the end of the day, neither roads nor sidewalks are ideal for children to ride bicycles.

The Dutch have recognized this and provide physically segregated paths for bicycles to provide unimpeded, safe routes for thousands of children to get to school.

Here is a typical Dutch school bicycle parking lot (via David Hembrow):

Dutch School Bicycle Parking Lot

Photo courtesy of David Hembrow / A View From the Cycle Path

The following videos feature school children bicycling to school in the Netherlands – also from our friend David Hembrow:

Watch “Safe Routes to School. Kloosterveen, Assen, Netherlands” on YouTube

Watch “School bike trip. Assen, Netherlands (safe routes to school)” on YouTube

Watch “Safe routes to School – Vries to Assen in the Netherlands” on YouTube

This is the type of infrastructure we need here in North America. Not only would it help reduce conflicts between motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists, it would also help us reduce our dependency on oil and tackle the growing problem of obesity.

James D. Schwartz is the editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at

(Original story courtesy of the BBC)

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7 thoughts on “4-Year-Old Guilty of Negligence on Bicycle

  1. Ryan Oct 31,2010 7:07 pm

    We wonder why each upcoming generation is more and more inactive and obese.
    Fortunately the vast majority of pedestrians understand and agree that young children should ride on the sidewalk.

    I do see quite a few parents who have their kids in front of them in the bike lane by my house on a busy road. It’s great they are starting their kids young.

    It actually makes me sick when I see videos such as those. Sick because I know the likelihood of ever seeing those type of bike lanes here is very slim.

    Even though Vancouver & Montréal have increased the amount of separated bike lanes, they still are not safe enough for kids to cycle on because of the way road crossings are designed here.

  2. Cycling For Beginners Oct 31,2010 7:28 pm

    A four year old understanding risk? I’m guessing this judge has not been around four year olds very often, if at all. Most gravitate toward risky behavior. There used to be an assumption that children under seven years old were not capable of being legally negligent — that seems like a pretty good rule to me


  3. Sue 'sans' helmet Nov 1,2010 1:08 am

    Unbelievable – they’re babies – I am completely GOBSMACKED!!!!

  4. Rob Nov 2,2010 4:00 am

    I’m with Ryan, we might as well be looking at videos of biking on the moon, we’re so far behind the rest of the world.

    I rarely let my kids (7,6,4) ride on a road with cars. Sometimes in courts. Even then I get the willies when there’s a car parked along the curb and they have to go around.

  5. James D. Schwartz Nov 2,2010 5:50 pm

    Ryan/Rob, Agreed that we are behind some places, but I wouldn’t say we are behind the rest of the world. Yes, the Netherlands is our Mecca, but just ask anyone who grew up in a big city in South America, and they will tell you that it is extremely civilized and safe on streets in North America compared to say somewhere in Brazil.

    So I think it’s good to recognize what we have done well, but we need to look at countries like the Netherlands to see where we can go from here. We are at a crossroad, and if don’t push for things to get better, then we might end up worse than we are now. If we show the world a better way, then perhaps some day we will achieve what they have done in the Netherlands.

    It’s not easy to change society, but it’s well worth the fight.

  6. Anonymous Nov 11,2010 4:30 am

    No racing bicycles on the sidewalk. That has todo with tolerance on behalf of the parents for others – the people who will now have to pay the costs of a dead mother. If it was these people’s dog knocking down the old woman, they would be found negligent also. Rightfully so.

    The way i see it, this ruling has more todo with teaching the parents and others for their lack of social mores which resulted in a dead woman than it has todo with the media hype about the child… though i’m sure the little girl learned a lesson.

  7. kfg Dec 3,2010 8:43 pm

    Two things to note; the woman did not die of anything related to the accident. She “expired.” The accident happened proximate to her “use by date.” Nobody lost a mother over this incident and the “child” left behind is not some orphan, being of advanced age himself.

    Another is that the judge’s ruling actually depends on the fact that it is NOT the parents who are necessarily to held liable, as would be the case of a dog owner. The suit is directly against the child herself.

    A child not legally competent to in any way act in her own defense.

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