—Hot Seat Su
A cynic might argue (he's doing it now) that the current state of affairs persists mostly because it has not, so far, resulted in a well-publicized bloodbath. There's nothing like a body count to drive legislation.
In the absence of such child-seat carnage, I have to side with the bike-loving parents of Portland and their refreshingly lax safety standards.
It's probably too much to hope that this laissez-faire attitude will spread to other aspects of child-rearing—one wonders how many of those who militate for the right to strap a toddler to their bike any old way still think gluten should be handled like weapons-grade plutonium—but it's a start.
If it's any consolation, Su, you're not the first to have concerns about Portland cyclists carting kids around on their bikes like so many half-racks of PBR. In 2011, Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland) introduced a bill in the Oregon House that would have made it illegal to carry children under age 6 on a bike by any means. (It was roundly shouted down and died in committee.)
As to those tent-carts, also known as bike trailers, Consumer Reports actually rated them the safest way to haul a child. They're low, so there's less distance to fall, and they're designed not to tip over if Mommy takes a gin-addled header.
Parents in our society are given wide latitude to make questionable decisions on behalf of their children. Sarah Palin named her kids (if memory serves) Track, Trig, Loaff, Clunt and Mandongo—should that be legal? Who knows? Sometimes you just have to mind your own business.
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