In advance of their upcoming Bike to School day on May 4, the city of Phoenix has been handing out a particularly horrific set of “bike safety” comics to elementary schoolchildren, much to the understandable alarm of the children’s parents. The set of seven graphic novels – emphasis on graphic – feature a series of safety tips such as “Ride on the right!” and “Avoid the blind spot!” with gruesome consequences for a failure to abide. The cover of the “Always wear a helmet!” edition features a young cyclist whose brain is exposed by a section of scraped-away skull, with blood dripping down his face. In another, the poor fella gets his legs crushed by a truck because he was foolish enough to pop a wheelie.
Aside from promoting the dangerously misguided notion that cyclists are squarely to blame for their own injuries, rather than say, the driver of the truck who drove over a child’s legs or the city planners who failed to provide the boy with anywhere safe to ride, the comic books are also just straight up appalling. They’re difficult to look at even as an adult. How anyone thought it was a good idea to present to them to children boggles the mind.
Children love to learn about the sounds of their own bones splintering.
The books were produced by the Phoenix Street Transportation Department with an $18,700 grant from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. Rob Osborne, the illustrator responsible for the drawings, told the Arizona Republic that he knew the intent was to be over the top, but was himself actually surprised when he received no negative feedback about just how gruesome the drawings were.
Parents, however, were less impressed. One parent of a third grader reported to the Arizona Republic that the drawings scared her daughter, and expressed disbelief that the books are frequently handed out at school and community events around the city. The Department of Transportation, meanwhile, considers the program a success and is now working on a series for children as young as kindergarten, which Osborne will again illustrate.
At a time when physical inactivity among children is at an all-time high and childhood obesity is reaching a crisis point, cities should be doing everything they can to encourage children to bike. While cycling safely is certainly important, that message would be much better sent alongside a campaign to improve driver safety and the development of road conditions which permit children to ride. Instead, the Department of Transportation is basically saying ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ to safe streets, and encouraging children to accept the status quo or end up lying in a pool of blood.
Now I’m not a parent, but I’m pretty sure that isn’t the sort of education I’d want my children to receive.
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