Author of Blog: Daniel Day

Friday, September 22, 2017

A Car has More Rights

You've probably seen my tweets where I say, "A car has more rights than you or I walking or biking,"  and that is totally true. (Image 69.1)  When cars hit people, it isn't the fault of the driver, but the fault of the person being in the way of the car. It doesn't matter that the walk sign was on and the person was in the crosswalk, or a bicycle was stopped at a red light, the car is always given a pass when collisions occur.

It never occurred to me that if I get hit by a car, and I have been hit both walking and biking, that I would have less rights than the driver of the car.  But over the years, I started to realize after reading several stories.

The first story came from Freakanomics podcast called the "The Perfect Crime." In the show, they found out "that if you are driving your car and run over a pedestrian, there’s a good chance — especially if you live in New York — that you’ll barely be punished."  In the podcast they explore why someone would rarely be punished and the conclusion they came to that the cops have a hard time relating to the pedestrian, but relating to the driver.  One guy's solutions to all these deaths in NYC, and I kid you not is to have everyone wear helmets. (Image 69.2)

If you live in some cities, being hit by a car is a crime, yes you the person just walking around can be charged with a crime of being hit by a car. The first example happened in Atlanta, GA back in 2010.  A Mother just got off the bus and did what most of do, cross right in the middle of the stroad to get to her apartment where she was struck by a car.  Despite the driver having a history of hit and runs, the mother was sentenced to 36 months in prison.  Quote from story:  "Despite the fact that Atlanta-area municipalities continue to build roads, like the one where Nelson’s son was killed, with inadequate pedestrian crossings and sidewalks, and despite the fact that the federal government continues to vastly underfund pedestrian safety infrastructure on federally-funded roads and highways, the courts have pointed the finger at Nelson, blaming her for the death of her son on a road that was designed with no regard for pedestrian safety."

Another story comes from Ville Platte, Louisiana where three teenagers were charged with misdemeanors for not wearing reflecting clothing after getting hit by a truck.  No charges where given to the driver of the vehicle.  And if you try to go out and put a stop to dangerous driving, you'll get a ticket for jaywalking.  That what happened to a Mother who lives on the far Northside here in San Antonio.  She made a sign and stuck it in her front yard.  When that didn't work, well she went out in the middle of the street with the sign.  For doing that, she got a jaywalking ticket.

So how did it become like this?  It started with "E. B. Lefferts, who put forth a radical idea: don’t blame cars, blame human recklessness."  If you would ask a person back during the early 1900s, and ask him what the streets are for, he would have said "they're for people."  People back then were very outraged when a person was killed by a car.  After Lefferts,  when you were to ask a person what the streets are for, they would say that "they're for cars." 

In the bicycling and pedestrian advocacy community, we call this "Victim Blaming." Instead of putting the blame on the distracted driver, we put the blame of the person who was hit by the distracted driver. post about this stuff all the time.  Just do a google search with treehugger and victim blaming, and you'll come up with these results.  The Same with Streetsblog USA.

Another reason why it's easier to blame the victim, (the bicyclist or pedestrian) is because of the lever effect. You probably heard of this question before.  There's a trolley coming down a track and it's about to hit 5 people working, yet you can save those 5 people by flipping a lever which would change the track of the trolley to a track where one person is working.  Nine out of ten people said yes they would flip the lever.  However if you would ask would you push a guy off a bridge to warn the 5 people working, then 9 out of 10 people would say no.  And that's what a car is, a lever which makes it easier to kill.  "

Seemingly confirming that a car is really no different than a lever, did a story back in July 2017 called " New study looks at attitudes of drivers toward cyclists, and it ain't pretty."  Tara Goddard did her PHD thesis called "Exploring Drivers’ Attitudes and Behaviors toward Bicyclists: The Effect of Explicit and Implicit Attitudes on Self-Reported Safety Behaviors."  In the study she find out why people who drive have such a terrible attitude towards bicyclist and the conclusion she comes to is disturbing.  A "car essentially anonymizes drivers," basically making the driver a faceless victim.  She also found out that the bigger the vehicle, or the status of the vehicle, the less likely to yield to the vulnerable road user. (Image 69.3)

As technology has evolved, the ways to be distracted as a driver is immense.  If you ride a bicycle, you already have notice waiting at a traffic light and seeing someone texting on their phone or talking on their phone without a hands free device.  Brand new cars are sold with built in GPS, so it's no coincidence that the blame is on distracted walking and biking.  When the manufacture put in a screen in your car, or your cell phone rings while you're driving, you are going to be distracted. Add to that cars built after 2004 have shocks that absorb virtually every bump.  You could feel the changes in speed when I drove my first car, a 1987 Ford Thunderbird.  When I drove a rental car in 2016, a Toyota, I couldn't even feel the difference in speeds let alone the bumps I ran over.  Top that, there was a screen right below the radio, a big distraction.

Spread by news sources such as the Today Show and the NY Times, they wrongfully point out that the increase in pedestrian deaths is because of being distracted while walking.  And if you don't think that this misinformation campaign is having an effect here in San Antonio, then think again.  If you look at the last page of San Antonio's Vision Zero Brochure, than you would see how that they advise people, both walking and bicycling to wear bright clothing, i.e. to look like a construction warning device. My question is that how are drivers going to notice you looking like a traffic cone when they're being distracted by reading their GPS or the latest text message?  Leave it up to the Seattle Bike Blog to point out the obvious.  Quote:  "No matter what they are wearing, the person driving is responsible for not hitting them. Period."

We can tell that drivers are being more and more distracted because we are hearing more often that cars are hitting stationary houses. You might think I'm making this up that this is a more common occurrence, but here are the stories that were reported in 2017 alone of a vehicle crashing into a house here in San Antonio....
January 19, 2017: Speeding car crashes into northwest-side house
February 5, 2017:  Driver arrested after crashing into South Side home
March 11, 2017: Car crashes into house on Far West Side, woman injured
April 12, 2017: Driver flees after crashing into South Side Church's Chicken 
May 09, 2017: Car crashes into home on Northeast Side.
May 30, 2017: Late-night crash damages 4 South Side homes
June 23, 2017: SUV crashes into two cars, drives backward into wall of home, police say, 
August 23, 2017: Car crashes through South Side salon
Now we don't blame the house for being hit by the car, but if we were to "Victim Blame" the house for being hit by a car, we would hear headlines like 'House in the way of car when hit,' or 'House wasn't wearing helmet when hit by car. We never hear 'Driver didn't see house when he hit it because the house wasn't wearing reflective clothing,' and yet we are to blame the person walking or biking when they get hit by a car.

Another problem is that we don't blame the traffic engineer for designing a terrible place to walk or bicycle.  Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which lays out rules for pavement markings and traffic signals and signs, aren't adopting rules to make protected bicycle lanes standard. (Image 69.4)  So when we hear stories like this one, "Elderly woman struck, killed on Broadway Street by minivan carrying family of 4," it fails to point out that the wide travel lanes encourage speeding, nor will it  point out that reducing the number of vehicle lanes from four to two would reduce car crashes. These stories will never point out that there wasn't a crosswalk in walking distance or the nearest traffic controlled intersection lacked a crosswalk.   Another one "SAPD: 61-year-old pedestrian killed in hit-and-run crash on Southeast Side" fails to point out how there's no traffic calming devices or that the travel lanes are two wide.  And this one "Woman killed in Northwest Side hit-and-run identified" fails to point out that despite crossing is on the other side of the intersection and would have caused the person 5 more minutes to cross.  After a while, you say fuck it, and just go.  And if you're blaming the victim in this case, then go walk it everyday, I guarantee that you'll do what she did.  The story will also fail to point out that the crossing times are virtually less than 20 seconds and takes up to 5 minutes to activate.  The story also fails to mention that the intersection wasn't given a second thought for people walking because the engineers failed to count the number of people walking by.  The story also failed to mention that the driver didn't take the necessary steps to prevent the collision. 

So the next time you hear that someone was killed while crossing a stroad, or riding their bicycle without a helmet.  Instead of blaming the cyclist for not wearing a helmet, or the person for jaywalking where no crosswalk was in a reasonable distance, we should be blaming the traffic engineers for designing a deadly space, for making sure that driving as their only means of transportation. By pointing out that the driver was being distracted, not paying attention to operating his/her vehicle.  By doing this, we'll start to acknowledge the real reason people die because of walking or bicycling.  Not because the person walking was looking at their cell phone in a crosswalk with the walk signal on, or the cyclist not wearing a helmet.  It was because the driver was distracted, it was because the traffic engineer designed the stroad for speeding, not safety.  This is why I'm a big supporter of autonomous automobiles because the politicians are making excuses, the engineers aren't designing safe infrastructure, and the police and media are quick to blame the victim in every crash.

A link will be posted to my next story: "The Driverless Car, an opportunity being missed."  As soon as it is posted.

69.1: Link to Tweet:

69.2: Source for photo:

69.3 Source for tweet:

69.4 A Blog posting by Transportation Psychologist on Sept 2, 2017.

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