No Accident: Urban Design and Motor Vehicle Violence
“Around the world, 1.3 million people die in road traffic crashes and 20 to 50 million more are injured each year. It is a massive global health crisis that, for the most part, we ignore.”
Tonight I went to a MIT speaker series that featured the founder of Streetsblog, Aaron Naparstek. He refuses to use the term “accident” to describe motor vehicle crashes. Language can obviously create biases and using “accident” makes it easier to shift the blame or hold no one accountable altogether for traffic fatalities In many cases, crashes are the result of negligence or illegal maneuvers by a road user, and can even be partially the fault of poor planning practices. But can you call something an “accident” when a motorist intentionally rundowns a pedestrian or cyclist? Well, the media tends to think so.
Here are a few interesting points I pulled from the talk:
- We’ve bred a car culture that is stressful, aggressive, and fails to hold drivers responsible for injuries and deaths.
- Victim blaming and incomplete reporting by the police and media, again do not hold drivers accountable for their actions. “No criminality suspected” is a go-to phrase for the NYPD in cases with cyclist fatalities, regardless of the situation and who is at fault.
- Speed kills. When vehicle speeds are kept below 20 mph, conflicts result in injuries rather than deaths. Unfortunately, the talk did not go into detail about how separation between motorists and non-motorized traffic significantly increases safety, although all the examples of street improvements in NYC included cycle tracks.
- We need better data to make solid cases for why road safety needs to be a top funding priority.
The Dutch didn’t just wake-up one day and miraculously have nationwide cycle tracks. They started at a grassroots level with protests over road fatalities (focused on children’s safety) and the 1973 oil crisis. This put enough political pressure on the government to allocate the money they needed toward building these bike- and pedestrian-friendly facilities. So what should we do? Maybe we should take this fight to the streets.