Sunday, September 24, 2006


Accident: n. 1. An unexpected and undesirable event. 2. Something that occurs unexpectedly or unintentionally. 3. A circumstance that is not essential to the nature of something. 4. Fortune or chance. (The American Heritage Dictionary)

In 2005, traffic deaths in the US reached a 15 year high. Over 43,000 people died on our roads, about 700 of them were cyclists, and about 4000 were pedestrians. The rest were motorists or their passengers.

That means that each month, we kill more people on our roads than the terrorists did on September 11th. We kill more each month than the number of service men and women lost to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If some foreign power killed 3,000 Americans every month, we'd carpet bomb that country around the clock until it ceased to exist.

Terrorists do not endanger us in our daily lives. We're more endangered by other Americans on our roads. If terrorists killed 3,000 per month, we'd be outraged. If airliners cost 3,000 lives per month, the airlines would be grounded. If a manufacturer marketed a product that killed 3,000 every month, he'd be out of business, and hopefully in jail. We'd applaud the government for doing it.

Here are some headlines collected over just a few days:

Cyclist tangles with car

Cyclist facing paralysis after van incident

A cyclist has been killed after she was involved in a collision with a lorry in Hackney.

Tractor-trailer strikes cyclist in Charlestown

Cyclist killed in collision with truck

The local man killed Tuesday night in a car-bicycle accident

Monroe man on bicycle struck, killed by auto on Telegraph Road

A man on a bicycle was struck and killed by a vehicle this morning on Old US 41 just north of Rosemary Drive in Bonita Springs.

Bicycle Rider Dies After Being Hit By Car

A Verona man is dead after the bike he was riding was hit by a car

Bicyclist dies Sunday morning after being struck by vehicle

Car kills bicycling tourist at coast

Bicyclist killed after being struck by car

Child Struck By Vehicle While Riding Bicycle

Ambulance hits cyclist

We accept these deaths as 'accidents', seemingly random occurrences that take lives all too frequently. I've stopped using 'accident' because it implies that there's little that can be done to prevent them. A meteorite plunging through the atmosphere and hitting someone on the head is an accident. A collision in an intersection when someone runs a red light is definitely NOT an accident. This is a preventable crash, and crash is the proper term. An accident is unavoidable, but a crash has an identifiable cause.

Look at these closely and you'll be startled by one thing - the headline format is almost universally "Cyclist killed by Name-That-Vehicle" when in reality it should read "Motorist Kills Cyclist". It's almost as if the motor vehicle developed a mind of its own and went off hunting for people to mow down. Cars don't kill people. Drivers kill people. By sticking with the cyclist-killed-by-vehicle format, newspapers downplay the human factor involved in so many crashes, and tacitly endorse the killing as a mere unavoidable factor in modern living.

Three thousand people each month. At that rate, my hometown in Pennsylvania would be wiped out in less than a week. You, your family, and every one of your friends probably wouldn't equal the daily carnage on our roads. Imagine that - everyone you know gone in one day. The scale of the carnage is unimaginable, too large for most of us to grasp unless we put it in more personal terms. And is there anything more personal, more painful than the death of someone near and dear? I don't think so.

We're willing, perhaps too willing to accept government intrusion into our communications and banking, but we regard stop light cameras as invasive? Great Britain cut their annual death rate in half by installing cameras at intersections and aggressively targeting speeding. Some bark loudly about the invasive nature of such cameras and claim they're a governmental intrusion into private behavior. But what expectation of privacy should anyone have on a public street? What should be private about running someone down in an intersection? Why accept the idea that such 'private' behavior should be beyond the scrutiny of law enforcement?

Hold your elected officials accountable. Hold their feet to the fire and demand that they act to reduce those numbers. Don't accept platitudes and unfunded initiatives that give them political cover. Raise hell.

As for the offenders, take their keys away permanently. Devise a database that forbids anyone convicted of a traffic-related death from ever having a driver's license again, and legally barred from owning any motor vehicle - ever - not even a riding lawn mower. Confiscate and sell every motor vehicle they presently own with the money going to a victim’s fund. If someone commits a crime with a gun in hand, we remove all the guns from his residence. That’s safe and sensible. Why should it be any different for vehicles? If someone harms another human being with a car, take his cars away. Install traffic cameras at intersections. Aggressively enforce speed limits and red light running - for ALL classes of vehicles.

Let's stop the killing. Drive your car as if the other guy on the road is your brother. Drive your bike as if your Mom was in that overtaking car. And if anyone tries to tell you that a crash "was just an accident", tell them that those 43,000 American citizens died needlessly, and they’re our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, in short, our extended family, and it’s a disgrace that we accept their deaths so lightly.


Blogger Paul Tay said...

Santa finds the surveillance cams at the stop lights quite useful for impromptu performances with his guitar, dancing in the streets, spitting, and other juvenile acts of delinquency.

10:53 AM  
Blogger Fritz said...

17 reported accidents with one fatality so far this year in Santa Cruz County, where I live. The one death was on a remote, windy, mountain road. The descending cyclist crossed the yellow line and hit a truck head on, according to the driver who hit the cyclist.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Aaron said...

This article is very well written. I constantly remind people that crashes are not 'accidents'.
The real heartbreaker is all these neighbors (especially the elderly) who caution us to 'be careful out there'
when in fact what we need to be careful of is them.
In Portland I'm involved in a traffic safety action group working to create a vehicular homicide law (why isn't such a law already in existence?).
The reason red light cameras are often unpopular is because many of our elected officials regularly speed and drive recklessly back and forth to the capital. They don't want to get caught with a ticket.

2:11 PM  

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