A reminder about how the entitlement of automobility is embedded into law and democratizes death by accident
I was thinking about how automobile related death is "democratized"because of how the US legal system is set up to not penalize very much automobile accidents that result in death from negligence.
The Washington Post had two articles touching on this in the last week. One, "'For me there is no Christmas': Md. father mourns after death of his daughter," discusses the pain of a family whose daughter, watching a soccer practice, was killed by someone learning how to drive in an adjacent parking lot. From the article:
Reyes and his wife felt strongly that the driver and the man who was teaching her to drive should be charged with felonies and spend time in jail. But Montgomery County police and prosecutors cited them for minor traffic offenses. Reyes asked for a meeting and came to the prosecutors’ office to voice his complaints.Note that the New Yorker Magazine article, "Wrong Turn: How the fight to make America's highways safer went off course," discusses how the US system of traffic enforcement was set up and how it terms so many deaths as accidents, and isn't focused on determining whether or not such deaths were preventable.
“They killed my daughter,” he recalled telling them.
Assistant State’s Attorney Bryan Roslund had seen such cases before — a horrible, heartbreaking loss, but in his mind not enough to support the more serious charges. He showed Reyes the instructions that Maryland jurors are given in vehicular manslaughter trials, how they must be convinced that a driver was “grossly negligent.” Roslund pointed to jury instructions for a similar law: “Simple carelessness is insufficient to establish defendant’s guilt.”
A colleague points out that in terms of bike and pedestrian planning and the 5 E's (note that the City of Boston's framework adds a sixth "E" for equity, see "Equity as the sixth "E" in bike and pedestrian planning") that Enforcement needs to be beefed up in terms of changing the set of laws on accidents so that motor vehicle operators have responsibilities for their actions commensurate with the power of a motor vehicle and its capacity to kill.
The other story ("Donte Stallworth, former NFL wide receiver, working as a Huffington Post fellow") is about former football player Donte Stallworth, now working as a journalist for the Huffington Post. While driving he killed a person crossing the street. He didn't slow down because he expected the pedestrian would stop. From the article:
During the early-morning hours of March 14, 2009, Stallworth awoke to his ringing phone. Friends were celebrating a birthday at a Miami bar, and Stallworth was in a festive mood, too: A day earlier, he had earned a $4.5 million roster bonus from the Browns. He joined the group, ordering a bottle of Patron for the table and draining tequila shots with his friends. After driving home and sleeping for a short while, he awoke and went in search of food, speeding in his 2005 Bentley down the MacArthur Causeway when a 59-year-old pedestrian raced across the road to catch a bus. “I’m thinking he’s going to stop,” Stallworth recalled. “He didn’t stop.”I'd argue that the punishment for Mario Reyes, who had the audacity to not stop for a speeding car, was worse than Stallworth's continuing guilt.
The Bentley hit the man, a crane operator named Mario Reyes, killing him, and a test showed Stallworth’s blood-alcohol content was .126, above Florida’s .08 legal limit. Stallworth eventually pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter. He served 24 days of a 30-day jail sentence, had his driver’s license suspended for life and was suspended from the NFL without pay for the 2009 season. He later avoided a civil lawsuit by settling with Reyes’s family for an undisclosed sum.
He said recently that no punishment was as severe as the guilt that he still feels, imagining Reyes’s children growing up without their father. “You don’t want to live with what I live with,” said Stallworth, who has spent much of the past five years trying to atone further for his lapse in judgment, speaking to NFL rookies last summer about the dangers of drunken driving.
2. While I complain that DC's Department of Transportation Dashboard puts out unactionalbe information on traffic-related deaths, it turns out that the department's Highway Safety Office has a safety improvement action plan, the Strategic Highway Safety Plan, required as part of the city-state's relationship with the US DOT.
It calls for slight reduction in deaths over time.
Unlike the Dashboard, which admittedly, is focused on presenting data for this year, the detailed traffic accident analyses put out by DDOT lag by a few years. The most current report is from 2011.
For people interested in the details of accidents, it's pretty interesting. E.g., in the thread on this issue in a post on GGW ("Vision Zero won't be easy"), I kept making the point that the issue was accidents _in DC_ when people were opining about accidents such as backing up-related, which while a preponderance of accidents nationally, make up a little over 5% of accidents in DC--because most cars park on the street, here there are fewer interactions between cars and people and bikes in such situations, which is different from the suburbs.
This piece, ""Vision Zero" agenda for DC," was a discussion of the issue in response to the GGW piece.
My proposed Vision Zero Agenda
In the comments on the GGW piece, I sketched out a pretty complete Vision Zero agenda for DC, which I don't think is hard to do programmatically, but is difficult politically.
1. Put signage up at the major entry points into the city, stating that the prevailing speed limit is 25 mph, unless signed otherwise. (A big problem on city streets concerns suburbanites driving fast, and their lack of familiarity of driving in places where there are more pedestrians than cars.)
The other day I noticed that Garrett Park Maryland has this kind of signage, at least on Strathmore Road going westbound, but I wasn't in position to take a photo.
20 mph speed limit sign on Stanford Ave. at East Ave in the Town of Chevy Chase, Maryland.
2. Make residential street speed limits 20 mph. And prioritize pedestrian rights on residential streets. (This would be comparable to the "Neighborhood Slow Zones" in NYC; note that Chevy Chase and Kensington sign neighborhood streets with a 20mph speed limit.)
3. Change the roadway materials (like Belgian Block, etc.) for the streets around pedestrian predominated places e.g., commercial districts, parks, squares and circles, libraries, and Metrorail stations.
This will provide visual, aural, and physical cues for motor vehicle operators to drive at speeds congruent with the land use context and the presence of large numbers of pedestrians and bicyclists.
4. Change the speed limit around Metrorail stations to 25 mph (or 20 mph). (In the outer city, the Gray Administration upped speed limits on arterials to 30mph, from 25mph, although this was also done on 13th St. within the L'Enfant City.
5. Change winter snow clearance practices to support walking, biking, and transit use. See "A "maintenance of way" agenda for the walking and transit city."
6. When possible separate through traffic from arterials that are also neighborhood serving. See the past blog entry "Tunnelized road projects for DC."
While it would be expensive, for example, the commuter-through traffic elements of North Capitol Street-Blair Road should be put underground. There are other streets with similar conditions, e.g., 16th Street, where commuting traffic has a deleterious impact on the quality of residential life (ie. see the argument in Appleyard's _Livable Streets_ about how community interaction decreases with the increase in traffic).
7. Collect, maintain and present detailed data on all traffic accidents of all types (comparable to the recent Washcycle/GGW piece on biking), and put it in real-time on the DDOT Dashboard. The traffic safety "data" presented on the DDOT dashboard is not actionable or useful.
8. Analyze all traffic accidents and incorporate the PEDSAFE and BIKESAFE Safety Guide and Countermeasure Selection Systems AND OTHER TRAFFIC SAFETY ANALYSIS PROTOCOLS to shape physical and programmatic changes as necessary, when structural-design problems have been elucidated.
9. Retrain police officers with regard to bike and pedestrian accident analysis. Currently, officers are likely to presume that the motor vehicle operator is not at fault, unless the driver is impaired.
10. Legalize the Idaho Stop for bicycling ("Davis, California needs to legalize the Idaho Stop"). In return, require a bicycle endorsement on local drivers licenses. Consider license plates for bicycles. (If only to get motor vehicle operators to shut up.) Add refresher tests to drivers license renewals with specific questions on pedestrian and bicycle safety.
11. Develop and deliver a curriculum for traffic safety (bike, walk, transit, drive) for K-12 schools: elementary; junior high; and senior high schools.
12. Change the legal framework with regard to motor vehicle operation to require that automobiles--as the heaviest and most powerful mobility device--have the most legal responsibility with regard to accidents, comparable to the relatively new (20 years or so) Dutch policies. See "Traffic safety and Stage 4 of moral development theory."
13. Up the penalties for motor vehicle accidents that injure, maim, or kill
14. Except for the fact that they probably have their hands full already, bring back the traffic enforcement division of the police department as a special unit, and move the unit to DDOT. (DC's traffic safety unit was subsumed into "Special Operations.) a few years ago.) Note that I've noticed that the Motor Carrier Safety Unit is still intact.
15. Give parking enforcement officers the training and legal authority to ticket for driving infractions. For a variety of reasons, busy police officers in cities don't spend a lot of time enforcing traffic safety even though many cities have dedicated traffic safety units. Parking enforcement officers are on the streets all day. Giving them the training and authority to ticket traffic violations would increase the "eyes on the street" focused on traffic safety. More enforcement would reduce the number of infractions over time.
16. Require specialized training for heavy vehicle operators (e.g., concrete trucks, dump trucks, etc.) with regard to driving in urban conditions, and with pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Note that DC government does this for heavy vehicle operators, as does the Metrobus system. This training needs to be extended to private sector operators.
Note that in the comments on this piece originally, I downplayed the value of "roundabouts" in the urban environment, stating that for the most part, roundabouts are focused on facilitating motor vehicle traffic, not the safe movement of pedestrians and bicyclists. I should have been clearer in that this is the case for roundabouts on arterials. Mini-roundabouts as a treatment on neighborhood streets is an acceptable treatment. Seattle does this quite a bit, as a kind of neighborhood traffic calming technique and as a pro-bicycle treatment.
DC has started doing this in Upper Northwest, and according to GGW (DDOT director Brown stands up to opposition to mini-circles") some residents don't like it. I don't know how necessary it is as a treatment. Because most residential streets are narrow, and have parking on both sides of the street, vehicles moving in opposite directions have to move slowly when passing, which is a natural traffic calming practice--although many residents still clamor for speed bumps to slow through traffic.