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July 22, 2015

traffic mistakes

I've been meaning to jot this down for about a month, and it was news of this rally last week in Union Square that goosed me into actually getting this done. The rally was one of those things that I probably wouldn't have gone to even had I heard of it, because the goal of the rally is one of those ephemeral things that raised voices and placards (and yellow roses) can't really affect:
A day after a cyclist was fatally struck by an SUV driver near Barclays Center in Brooklyn, hundreds of safe streets advocates gathered for a vigil at the north end of Union Square, and pledged to stop referring to traffic collisions as "accidents."

Many of last night's attendees wore bright-yellow Families for Safe Streets t-shirts on which "accident" had been scribbled out with thick lines, and replaced with the word "CRASH." More than 23,500 single-stem yellow roses, piled at the base of a podium and distributed throughout the crowd, represented the 23,463 New Yorkers who have been injured, and 123 who have been killed, in traffic collisions this year to date.

Myself, I'm famously cautious when driving. I have been called "Gramma" more than once by the friends and family in the passenger seat. And the only goal of this was that I wanted to never, ever be in an automobile accident. Just too dumb of a way to go. So I basically drive in line with advice given to bicyclists who drive in traffic: act like every single vehicle in and out of the line of sight is actively trying to kill you.

And it worked for a long long time. Up until the middle of last month, as a matter of fact. The linked photo is not the car I was in, for the record. Long story short, some friends and I were returning from a very pleasant wedding weekend up in Ogunquit, ME on a Monday afternoon. We were on a surface road in Hartford, CT, in the left-hand turn lane, in fact, trying to get back onto the Interstate, waiting at the red. And we heard it — it sounded like an avalanche but made of metal — but we only had time to maybe furrow our brows and the car slammed forward ten feet. What had happened is that a car was coming down the hill towards the traffic light, doing about 50 mph, and never even touched the brakes. The car in the photo is his car. The first car he hit was sent clear across the intersection, about twenty yards, after which we were the second car hit, obviously with much less force.

Me and my passengers were fine. The driver in the car that got launched was wearing his sealtbelt and his airbags deployed. He was up and around, but the EMTs decided that based on the condition of his car, he was getting a trip to the hospital anyway. The driver who never stopped was not wearing a seatbelt, and yes, the impression in his windshield is from his head. When my friend checked on him immediately after, he was conscious, and muttered, "I musta fallen asleep." He too went to the hospital, once an ambulance with the proper equipment to transport him arrived. As far as I know both of them were not in mortal danger.

So that's how I got to be in a traffic accident that was very nearly a very big problem: not because of lack of concern on my part, but because of the three hundred million people that live here there is never a shortage of people who are more than happy to endanger everyone else because they're drunk or sleep-depped or just careless and staring at their phone.

And that's why I agree with the rally referenced above, but yet, as useless as I think rallies are, they did not go far enough. Traffic Accidents should not be renamed as Traffic Crashes. The word Crash does not go far enough in imputing responsibility. These are Traffic Mistakes, and only in the rarest cases are these tragedies entirely blameless. As in, if you were texting and you clip a bicyclist? That wasn't an accident. You made a mistake. You fucked up.

I might feel pretty strongly about this because of the residual rage at the man whose negligence threatened my life and the lives of my friends. But at the same time there are so many small episodes of the same lack of regard, usually resulting in annoyance or minor hindrances. People who stop at the top of a flight of stairs, people who talk loudly in ATM lines, that sort of stuff. It's like a race to the bottom, species-wise.

Yeah yeah yeah.

But the bottom line for me, aside from hugging your loved ones as frequently as possible, is not to be that guy, that guy who was unable to understand that a consequence of his actions would be plowing into sitting target cars at an excessive speed. It'd be a start, and maybe just as an example to the rest of everyone (and I'm pretty sure that putting strangers in the hospital is the last thing you want to do).

Posted by mrbrent at 10:14 AM