Road User Safety

I’m going to run on at the mouth for a while.

I don’t understand why such a vast swath of the country lets careless drivers completely off the hook. Cars and trucks are the deadliest things we touch on a regular basis, especially now that smoking has become completely unacceptable.

In 2007, the last year for which the CDC has posted mortality data on its website, almost 44,000 Americans were killed in motor vehicle accidents. Lung cancer and emphysema killed almost three times more, but I’ll guarantee you that there are way more than three times more commercials encouraging Americans not to smoke than there are encouraging them to slow down and be careful when driving. In comparison, “Water, air and space, and other and unspecified transport accidents and their sequelae” (Plane crashes and non-automotive crashes, including bikes) – less than 2,000 fatalities. And this includes drunk boaters, stunt pilots, everyone who is petrified of flying ’cause it’s ‘unsafe’ and idiot cyclists.

My Ma had a woman in her neighborhood hit and killed by driver yesterday. My mom was pretty seriously affected by it – she and Dad were out walking when it happened, and saw the helicopter fly off with the woman’s soon-to-be-lifeless body. She posted about it on Facebook:

Tuesday, as the sun was setting, Bill & I heard sirens as we were returning from a walk. Then Air Lift landed. A young mother of two was struck by a car as she walked. She died last night. A stark reminder that each day we have is a gift. If you walk or run on the roads Please face traffic and don’t wear ear buds. Be alert!

What torques me off about this is that almost everyone’s gut reaction is to suggest ways to be safer when using the road as a runner or cyclist, rather than to point out ways to be a safer driver. The KGNB article said:

Troopers say the driver of the car will not face any criminal charges since the incident has been ruled an accident. But DPS officials strongly urge joggers or walkers to stay on sidewalks as much as possible, and if you’re going to walk or jog in the street, to do so going AGAINST the flow of traffic.

When I protested that the driver bore much of the blame for the woman’s killing, my sister-in-law said:

Appreciate your point Billy, but I also think that we have to be smart and reduce as many risks as possible and be responsible for our own actions. I almost hit our neighbor’s dog who was crossing the street because the sun was in my eyes when I came around the corner.

To me, the knee-jerk reaction to suggest things that the runner could have done differently is akin to saying “Well, she was asking for it” when a woman gets raped.

Yes, there are things that runners, pedestrians, and cyclists can do to reduce their exposure to traffic, but the right to use public roadways should not come with a government individual mandate that every citizen purchase an automobile and petroleum or forefit their right to use the roads. Furthermore, the moral responsibility for protecting life should rightly rest with the person with the most ability to do harm – the person operating the two-ton motor vehicle.

In this case, the runner was in a very low-population density neighborhood, on a straight road with pretty big shoulders and good sight-lines. My rewrite of the incident would be more like this:

A young mother of two was killed last night by a careless driver, driving faster than was considered prudent given the limited visibility due to the setting sun. A stark reminder that each day is a gift. If you drive, make sure you do not take that gift from anyone else.

If the driver had blown 0.08% on a breathalyzer, the driver would be in jail right now, regardless of the sun conditions. Sadly, for a sober driver, the setting sun seems to be implicitly endorsed by the Texas Department of Public Safety as a good reason to commit vehicular manslaughter.

(The Driver) was “impaired by the sun” and did not see the bicyclists, officials said. Both riders were wearing helmets, the DPS said. (“Because the cyclists would be completely at fault for being run over from behind if they weren’t wearing helmets”, the DPS implied)

The roads are a public good. That the dead woman was jogging for health or recreation is immaterial – she would be just as dead if she were walking to pick up her kids from a playdate, or riding her bike home from work – using the roads for transport. There should not be an implicit unfunded individual mandate that the only way to use the road is to purchase gasoline and an automobile.

I didn’t know the woman who was killed by the careless driver in Spring Branch yesterday, but this is personal to me. I’d like to think that I’m just as protected from careless drivers by the law when I ride my bike to work as I am when I drive to work, but all the evidence suggests that a driver who plows into me from behind will get off scott free if I’m on my bike, and only be held accountable if they total my VW while killing me.

Transport for America has a great interactive website that goes through fatalities by state, but I’m not convinced that just spending money on ‘infrastructure’ will save lives. People need to be held accountable, even if it’s ‘an accident’, when they kill a pedestrian or cyclist. Do it often enough, and the bloodshed will stop.

2 thoughts on “Road User Safety

  1. Here’s the other rub though, if she had slammed into a van full of a family without being drunk, she still would get off scot free. Would still have to show she was drunk or otherwise breaking the law to place legal fault on her. “Best case scenario” she gets a ticket for reckless driving. No way a prosecutor takes a manslaughter case to trial.

    I agree the lack of consequences sucks, but you have to take control of your situation. Especially knowing that in today’s society any alternate use of a road is less valued/protected.

    I wonder if requiring a runner/biker to have a license/pay use tax ala cars and motorcyclists and changing laws to protect us would help alleviate the problem.

  2. But we do pay a use tax – it’s been two decades since federal gas taxes completely covered the federal highway bill each year, and long since that before states dipped into general revenue to fund road construction. Every taxpayer, regardless of if they drive or not, is funding road constructions. Additionally, last time I checked, police departments are generally budgeted outside of licensing and gas taxes, too.

    I would even wager that the majority of cyclists/runners are licensed drivers. But in any case, what would you propose doing with people who don’t pay the tax – arrest them if they leave their homes? Kids and folks who now rely on public transportation?

    44,000 people killed each year on the highways and roads – a 747 flying into the ground each day, and the best we can do is shrug and say “Well, at least we got there quicker”.

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