What’s Really Dangerous for Kids? Hint: It Has Four Wheels and a Tailpipe.

2822848009_98b4623864_m.jpgPhoto by pawpaw67 via Flickr.
When she wrote a column for the New York Sun last year about letting her nine-year-old ride the subway on his own, Lenore Skenazy was pilloried by many as an irresponsible mom. She stuck to her guns, though, and started a blog dedicated to "sane parenting", advocating the idea that we are over-sheltering our children from infinitesimal threats such as stranger abduction. According to Skenazy, the kind of independence represented by that subway trip is necessary and healthy for children -- and their parents as well.

Now she's making the publicity rounds promoting her book, Free-Range Kids. In a recent interview with Salon, she pointed out that  while many American parents are terrified to let their children walk a few blocks or ride public transit, they think nothing of driving them everywhere -- even though car crashes are the leading cause of death for children in the US:

Skenazy: If you don't want to have your child in any kind of danger, you really can't do anything. You certainly couldn't drive them in a car, because that's the No. 1 way kids die, as passengers in car accidents.

Salon: Rationally, why aren't cars the bogeyman instead of stranger abduction?

Skenazy: It would change our entire lifestyle if we couldn't drive our kids in a car, and it's a danger that we just willingly accept without examining it too much, because we know that the chances are very slim that we're going to have a fatal car accident. But the chances are 40 times slimmer that your kid walking to school, whether or not she's the only one, is going to be hurt by a stranger.

Skenazy's answer gets to the heart of why it is so hard for people to accept the many ways in which automobiles hurt everyone in society, perhaps especially children -- through crashes, through polluting the air, through promoting obesity. We can imagine a life in which our children are not allowed to play outdoors, walk to a friend's house or spend any time unsupervised. But we just can't imagine life without cars.

Or can we?