This is not (yet) a hot civil rights topic. You won't see peds and bikes marching together through DC chanting "Stop the Killing." But it may be only a matter of time. The quick romp through the WWW that yielded this collection of sad stories and sobering stats shows, I think, that we have a serious social justice issue here that has not been publicly recognized.
What it comes down to is that whenever a sober motorist kills or injures a pedestrian or cyclist, the police in countries like the US, UK, and Australia seem to bend over backwards to convince themselves and the local media that the motorist is not at fault.
Sometimes this is done by defining what happened as "an accident," even if there's evidence that the motorist was breaking the law by speeding or other unsafe driving; even if the motorist showed classic signs of "road rage" and seemed to be driving dangerously to express ill temper or frustration. Bias also shows in the very light sentences that most motorized manslaughterers receive. Light fines, no suspension of license... grieving friends and relatives of the victims often feel that the driver's license really is a "license to kill."
Sometimes law enforcement folks go a step further and try to blame the pedestrian or cyclist. We all know that peds and bikes occasionally do stupid things. There are cyclists who run reds, run stop signs, make illegal turns and so on. But the average person in an urban area for whom walking or cycling is a primary transit mode, will testify that there are a lot more drivers out there than peds or bikes, and that the drivers are driving very badly. The more car-dependent our crowded cities become, the worse the traffic, the worse people drive.
Consider for a moment that the impact of the average car moving at 30 mph is roughly equivalent in destructive power to a shotgun blast. A city full of motorists lane-jumping, racing lights, full of impatience and ego, and often incompetent or impaired, is just like a city full of people running about waving shotguns with the safety catches off. When a "road rage" driver deliberately runs someone off the road, or deliberately runs over a cyclist or ped, it's ADW. It's not an "accident".
And the incompetent, inattentive, careless driver who "accidentally" kills someone should not be in charge of a lethal weapon. If people cannot control themselves and their vehicles, they shouldn't have driver's licenses. A driving license should be a privilege, not a given. We should take it away from people who abuse the privilege. We don't let pilots keep flying if they have a tendency to crash planes. Yet we tolerate the equivalent of a jumbo jet crash every three days, in auto crash deaths.
We let incompetent, careless, and undisciplined persons keep driving because "you have to have a car" in our societies which have been tailored around car-dependence. It's seen as inhumane to deprive someone of their "right" to own and drive a car.
We thereby condemn over 40 thousand people a year to death on the road inside cars, and thousands more to death outside cars. Some accidents are really accidents -- gear failure, a tie-down breaks on a load, a tyre explodes, driver has a heart attack, road collapses, an unexpected windstorm blows a camper over. But most "accidents" are caused by bad driving -- driving too fast, driving when drunk, driving in defiance of the local law. We ought to admit this, and we ought to focus on the primary source of danger: too many cars, and bad driving.
Austin TX: some organized presentation here... suggest you sit down, get a cup of tea, and REALLY READ these, because this guy has his act together. While you read, remember that Austin bills itself as a "bike friendly" city. Just like Santa Cruz does. href=http://bicycleaustin.com/justice/details.html http://bicycleaustin.com/police.html http://bicycleaustin.com/justice/whattodo.html "Despite pleading from Williams and his attorney, the police took no interest in or action on that case. (That is, not until a concerned citizen asked a city councilmember for help, and the councilmember asked the police chief for an explanation.)" We've lost track of how many cyclists have been ARRESTED (not just ticketed, but ARRESTED) for minor infractions such as biking on the sidewalk downtown or biking without a helmet (back when the helmet law was in effect for adults). If you drove your car without wearing your seatbelt, you might expect to get a ticket, but you wouldn't expect to be arrested. It's a sorry state of affairs when you can get arrested for riding on the sidewalk on your bike but not for running a red light in and killing a cyclist with your car. and Notice the "protect the motorist"-style wording: they say the bicycle "made contact with" the SUV, as though the bike hit the truck, instead of the other way around! As Dan Connelly suggested, you would therefore expect the paper to report that shooting victims "made contact with the bullet"! These quotes hit the three main themes. 1) police indifference to cyclist reports, police failure to take motorist misbehaviour against bikes seriously, ridiculously lenient treatment of careless, incompetent, or aggressive drivers 2) heavy-handed regulation/surveillance/harassment of bikes, while cars literally get away with murder. 3) biased reporting in the local press Keep these three themes in mind as you read on. ------------------------------------------------------------------------- Let's start with small-town America. Traverse City. A 36-yr-old woman is struck and killed in the early hours of the morning by a motorist. The police have reason to believe the motorist was speeding. But the younger woman driver is let go w/o charges as police conclude the victim should have been wearing reflective clothing. Mailed to me by a local: The only newspaper coverage of the incident is at http://www.record-eagle.com/2000/dec/11neghom.htm. You'll have to look closely; it's the last two grafs of the story, just an afterthought to the more important news involving the star athlete. Ironically, the victim worked for the very newspaper that didn't even care enough to give her her own headline. Note the line of reasoning. Even though the motorist was probably speeding, i.e. BREAKING THE LAW, the pedestrian is blamed for not wearing special reflective clothing. Does "she was in the wrong place and wearing the wrong clothing," ring any bells for you? You will find over the last 40 years a very scary trend in traffic safety officialdom. More and more they will be saying that we can blame a cyclist if they are not wearing a helmet, we can blame a cyclist or ped for wearing clothing that is not reflective... in other words, ordinary people have to put on special protective gear to live and move around in their own communities. To me this is equivalent to saying that if you get shot, it's your fault if you didn't buy and wear a Kevlar vest. We don't say that a person operating an extremely dangerous piece of heavy equipment, i.e. a car, should be operating it more carefully. In Japan it's actually been suggested that children should not *walk* to school without helmets on, because of the risk from automobiles. The bad driving is always taken for granted. The excessively high speed limits are taken for granted. Motorist privilege cannot be challenged... anyway, I assume this is pretty obvious to you but I want to underline it right at the beginning, because this is the mindset that eventually leads to cops ignoring what happened to Shawn. Now go to the UK: http://www.greengas.u-net.com/TransportForum.html search for "bias" twice, and you'll find (this is just an excerpt) I have also seen a police motorcyclist jump the lights to tell off a cyclist who had not stopped, whilst ignoring a motor cyclist who had stopped but had gone way past the lights, blocking the pedestrian crossing area!). But making out cyclists as naughty, undeserving people justifies the civil servants and local authorities that continue to deny cyclists' facilities - as well as the behaviour of drivers towards cyclists... And from an insurance expert http://www.cincinnaticycleclub.org/bikelaw/bikelaw.htm Do NOT rely on the police report and the investigating police officer's "reconstruction" to properly investigate a bicycle accident. Such personnel typically have little if any training in technical bicycle accident reconstruction. I once handled a death case in which the investigating officer concluded that the cause of the accident was that the cyclist made a sudden 90 degree left turn in front of a passing automobile causing the car to broadside the bike. The officer took numerous photographs of the bike being held up against the front of the car, matching up the damage to both vehicles. My bike accident reconstruction expert noted immediately that "Bikes don't make right angle turns!" Indeed, bikes turn gradually, by leaning, not by steering, and a bicycle simply can't "turn on a dime" as this report indicated. My expert also examined the rear wheel of the bicycle in question and concluded, based upon research he had conducted in which hundreds of bicycle wheels were struck from behind, that the defendant had, essentially, rear ended the bike. This impact caused the bike to pivot around and smash broadside into the front of the car. These opinions overcame the officer's cursory and unsupported conclusions and provided the impetus for settlement. The family almost failed to seek legal assistance based upon the officer's conclusions that the cyclist was at fault! please pay attention to the phrase "cursory and unsupported". you know very well what "cursory" means and it is how Shawn was treated. from a discussion on sfbike 1998 http://cyclery.com/lists/sfbike/sfbike-archive-hyper/sfbike.199809/0125.html >Rebecca's death will not be forgotten. In my opinion, it will more likely be >a major factor behind a long overdue shift in public awareness and transit >policy implementation, And how, exactly, is this going to happen? The newspapers have already decreed the cause of the accident - the cyclist. Case closed. What exactly is going to change that? An honest police report? An honest investigation by MUNI? Concern from the mayor's office? Have you ever worked to get an accurate news account in the paper once the city has given its version of events? I believe you underestimate what you are contending with. From Hawaii, an action item list http://cyclery.com/lists/hawaii/hawaii-archive-hyper/hawaii.199706/0001.html from an advisory committee on bike safety 5.e Continuing education of police officers to remove anti-bicyclist bias in police reporting of bicycle accidents and in bicycle accident reconstruction and analysis. a touring cyclist writes "don't carry a gun!" http://www.phred.org/pipermail/touring/2000-May/008116.html There is also a difference in attitude between the two possible worse scenarios. If a motorist kills a cyclist (or pedestrian) with their vehicle, it is usually called an accident. If a cyclist pulls out a gun and chases down the motorist (remember, the initial incident which pissed the cyclist off has passed and the cyclist is no longer in a threatening situation), shoots and kills the motorist, it is called murder. amusing, yes but note "if a motorist kills a cyclist or pedestrian with their vehicle, it is usually called an accident". SF Bike Group Discussion http://cyclery.com/lists/sfbike/sfbike-archive-hyper/sfbike.200001/0385.html Now, below is a story that was posted today... why is it that when a motorist kills a motorist, they get hit with vehicular manslaughter, but when a motorist kills a pedestrian, they take a blood sample and release them? the UK again http://www.hampshirechronicle.co.uk/98/aug28/news1.html Also bitter that the driver involved in the accident which led to the death of Ann Burner was only fined, the family is launching a petition for tougher driving laws. Said Mary Burner (46): "We believe that any motorist who injures or kills a pedestrian should automatically be banned from driving. Then, if they're allowed back on the road, they should be re-tested." http://bicycleaustin.com/opinion/newleg.html search for "Babich" and read how tandem riders were harassed by a bunch of louts in a car -- police professed inability to do anything also keep reading, "People who can't control the deadly weapons they own should not be allowed to own them. This is an issue of public safety, not punishment." dangers of aggressive driving http://www.peekaboo.net/archives/cat18/113.html very lengthy paper on psychology of aggressive driving http://www.aggressive.drivers.com/papers/tasca/tasca-paper.html http://www.apbonline.com/newscenter/breakingnews/1999/09/14/traffic0914_01.html "Not one motorist last year was charged with homicide for killing a pedestrian, as far as we know," Kayhny said. "The term used is accident, which implies that there's no fault involved, or it's an act of God. ... Drivers are seriously getting away with murder. It's extremely rare for any motorist at fault to serve any jail time." http://www.dot.gov/affairs/1999/nhtsa4399.htm official gov't doc on road safety for children. note that the entire doc focuses on children and how they must be constrained, supervised, controlled, trained -- nothing about slowing drivers down or re-educating drivers. from the UK again, a cycle group http://www.battewell.freeserve.co.uk/campaign.htm Typically a motorist who kills a cyclist after speeding through a residential area is fined 100 pounds. In mainland Europe they could face a prison sentence, while the onus of proof lies with the motorist there, they are assumed guilty until proven innocent. news item http://www.hasbrouck-heights.com/blvd/blvdsafe.shtml Helen Golish, a 35-year resident of the town, was apparently shopping on the Boulevard on Sept. 21 at 12:19 p.m. when she was hit by a school bus as she crossed the street at Stanley Avenue. ... Barbee [bus driver] was apparently not speeding or driving recklessly and was cited only for failing to yield to a pedestrian said Castiglione. According to New Jersey Division of Motor Vehicles officials, Barbee who resides in Garfield has had prior license suspensions and been cited for numerous violations. The Bergen County Prosecutor's Office Fatal Accident Squad responded to the scene. The incident has been classified as an accident... previous citations and suspensions. he's still driving (a school bus!) this time he kills someone. and it's "an accident"? Sound at all familiar? Worcester, Mass, 1997 http://www.ultranet.com/~ltolman/assault.htm Last spring, Porter was biking on Route 20 in Northboro when a driver tried to run him off the road, he said. The Northboro police initially brushed off the cyclist's complaint... It took Porter 10 months of phone calls, networking by e-mail, meetings and court appearances to get results. Another person might have given up in frustration. ... some stories about police roughing up Critical Mass Riders http://www.bclu.org/stories/demonstrations/ Georgia USA http://www.peds.org/newsletter.html Mean Streets, a study by two non-profit groups, ranked the Atlanta region as the nation's third most dangerous place to walk. A pedestrian in Georgia, it found, is 2.5 times more likely to be killed by a stranger with a car than by a stranger with a gun. The word "accident" is used to describe something bad that happens unexpectedly. But is it unexpected when a motorist speeding through a neighborhood kills a child? Or when someone turning right on red without looking collides with a pedestrian? "Accident" lets the responsible person off the hook; "crash" or "collision" does not. In late 1996 the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration launched a campaign to ban the word "accident" from all agency communications with the public. PEDS and the Fulton County Pedestrian Safety Project will be encouraging the media to correct its vocabulary. PEDS encourages all of you to do the same. It's 2001 and the SCPD is still calling what happened to Shawn an "accident". A cycle tourist's journal (oops, lost URL, you can re-find it using Google to search on a chunk of the text though): Our Japanese friend lasted only 2 nights before we lost him. We think he camps wild to save money. He says that if a motorist in Japan kills a cyclist he is banned for life. A Critical Mass rider reports on the double standard in Portland OR http://www.subluna.com/CriticalMass/rides/may99.html Last fall's arrests and overnight incarceration of 18 riders for making one illegal left turn had the effect of infusing our rides with much new young radical blood.... 1. a motorist who blows a stop-sign and kills a cyclist gets a $300 fine, while a cyclist who commits the most minor of infractions is jailed... 3. motorists routinely turn right at intersections and driveways while looking only towards the approaching traffic on their left, then routinely leave the scene of the accident that results. 4. motorists who routinely exceed the speed limit or make california stops then become consumed with rage at cyclists' courteously proceeding on red. Skiers get charged with manslaughter http://www.nctimes.com/news/091200/wwww.html Nathan Hall, then 18, is charged with felony manslaughter in the death of a skier he hit while bouncing down a bumpy run at Vail Mountain after finishing his shift as a lift operator in April 1997. But when drivers do it, it's an "accident" Madison WI http://danenet.wicip.org/bcp/bfw/wb3_4.html Local cyclist run off road, beaten, arrested. On June 18, 1997 a local cyclist was run off County N by a sport utility vehicle driver. When the cyclist (no prior record) confronted the driver (with a prior record of battery), the driver commenced beating the cyclist (who was still in cleats locked in the pedals) and smashing his bicycle. The cyclist sustained a concussion, a severely bruised face, a broken tooth and $400 in damage to the bicycle. When the Dane Co. Sheriff's deputy arrived on the scene, only the driver's report was taken. The deputy treated the cyclist with condescension and ignored evidence that cast doubt upon the motorist's story. The cyclist was immediately hauled off to jail and charged with misdemeanor assault. When the cyclist's lawyers informed the Dane Co. District Attorney that the wrong person had been arrested, the DA piled on additional charges against the cyclist... see also http://danenet.wicip.org/bcp/sheriff.html several accounts of cyclists reporting serious incidents and being disregarded by local law enforcement, Dane County, WI discussion online, news articles from PA, USA http://www.mail-archive.com/bikies%40cyclery.com/msg00206.html The driver was fined $25 dollars after running over a bicyclist. A very moving epitaph for a dead cyclist from the UK http://www.bikereader.com/BikeReader/contributors/Field/slaughter.html Australia http://www.physics.usyd.edu.au/~eddie/cmass/cmresources/presskit.html In Victoria, 35% of cars are damaged in road accidents, one in 267 cars kills a human, one in 50 permanently handicaps and one in 7.3 causes personal injury.... Sarcasm and bitter anger from the UK http://www.camcycle.org.uk/newsletters/3/article11.html (was http://www.ccdc.cam.ac.uk/camcycle/ccc_news03.html) The traditional Road Safety establishment is incapable of confronting the problem properly because it is itself compromised, directly or ideologically, with the culprit industry. Thus it promotes devices to protect motorists from the consequences of dangerous driving while instructing children to flee the streets and cyclists to adopt pathetic measures to save themselves when being run over. The Highway Code (though necessitated by motoring behaviour) is generally ignored, save for the purpose of castigating cyclists. 'Road Safety' produced the term 'Road Accident' to describe the serious and sometimes fatal result of people using lethal machinery recklessly or irresponsibly, fostering the notion that violence at the hands of criminals is somehow unavoidable or excusable when performed with a car - a view confirmed in the courts with depressing regularity. it proceeds at base from an acceptance that motorists have a right to expropriate public space (the streets) and threaten others while in their 'private' vehicles; 'Get out of the way of cars!' is the road safety officer's unswerving theme. and more soberly notes Without independent witnesses, the police will rarely prosecute, even when a cyclist is killed. 1995, USA http://www.cren.net/ftp/archives/bicycle/log9510 On July 27, 1995 eleven-year-old Jolene Hunt was riding Eastbound on the North side of Alton. Yes, she was riding counterflow, but it was in a two-way bicycle path on one side of the road. The light was green as she entered the intersection at Fairview. Before she made it across the light turned to red. A Northbound motorist, in the right lane on Fairview, waiting for the light to change, saw the green and drove across Alton and collided with Jolene. Jolene's right ankle was severly broken, and she suffered some cuts and scrapes. The Police cited the motorist only for being uninsured. The Police Report distributed the blame for the collision between the motorist and Jolene -- the motorist for a failure to yield and Jolene for riding in a crosswalk. The _extremely_ obnoxious part was that the uninsured motorist demanded that Jolene's parents pay to fix the grillwork in her car. bike list chitchat http://www.bikelist.org/pipermail/internet-bob/2000-September.txt Take a truck driver in Washington State, who kills a bicycle rider with his truck. Then leaves him for dead. Then lies about the damage to the truck by telling his boss that he hit a deer. How much time in jail would you expect him to spend for the murder plus the hit and run? If you live in Washington State you know the answer is a big fat goose egg (zero!) Until about a month ago in Washington State, hit and run murder was punishable by only three to nine months in county jail, with no jail time for the first offense. Pretty amazing, huh? San Francisco again http://cyclery.com/lists/sfbike/sfbike-archive-hyper/sfbike.199704/0138.html I was the victim of a hit and run accident on April 12, 1996. It was the classic example of a driver cutting it too close to a biker... What has followed this has proved both baffling and infuriating to me, and I wondered if anyone could give me some insight. While the police interviewed three or four people on the scene, their police report omitted all of the interviews and was incredibly sketchy. I finally requested a copy of the report when the DA decided to drop all felony charges against the driver. ... this story goes on... the driver, emboldened by lenient treatment on the part of the law, gets his insurance company to blame the cyclist for "running into the car" and wants to get money out of her. What I'm finding so hard to deal with is that not only were all the criminal charges against the driver dropped, he didn't even get a traffic citation for hitting me - and all of this even though a bystander had to chase him down. Not only does this absolutely crush me with its injustice, but it terrifies me as a cyclist. The UK again http://floti.bell.ac.uk/policesystems/frmain05.htm The Review (1988) found that there was a strong feeling in some quarters that the legislation in force then did not attach sufficient weight to to the interests of pedestrians and cyclists. It also found there was a widespread sense of injustice among accident victims and their relatives that the law seemed to take a more tolerant view of those who caused death and injury, particularly as a consequence of consuming alcohol. Australia http://www.supremecourt.vic.gov.au/crtappsum/cri1199.htm When rain interrupted work he had consumed three pots of beer at the Flinders Hotel. He then resumed work in the afternoon and at the end of the day spent the next few hours drinking beer at his employer's home at Bittern. At about 8.45 p.m. he left to drive home along Coolart Road where he drove into the back of a cyclist and killed her. The principal argument on appeal was that the sentence [5 years] was manifestly excessive on the basis that the offence should have been characterized as falling within the lower to middle range of conduct giving rise to the offence. Although not maintaining a proper lookout, the applicant was not driving erratically nor on the wrong side of the road. what is interesting here is that running over a cyclist is not "driving erratically", and 5 years is seen as a "stern" or excessive sentence for killing a person. Berkeley CA http://www.bclu.org/nov8.html It's very important that police treat bicyclists well. Unfortunately there are problems in police departments which can be found all across the country. Berkeley is no exception. Police often do not know the rights of bicyclists and pedestrians and tend to fault us wrongly. Some police are actively biased against us. When a person is hit by a car, this is very serious as a police report that faults the bicyclist can mean not only are you injured or killed, but also that you can't get a settlement from the driver to help pay for your hospital, suffering, etc. In everyday life, this means that we are getting a lot of tickets that we shouldn't be getting, and police are refusing to enforce laws against violent, careless and aggressive drivers. When it comes to demonstrations such as Critical Mass, a whole second layer of poor treatment by police comes into play. In an effort to address these problems a few bike activists began meeting with the Police Department and were very frustrated to get nowhere. The police stated that motor vehicles are "not a public safety problem". They refused to take steps to educate their officers, saying that "our officers already ride bicycles, there's nothing more they need to know". When we tried to get statistics to show patterns of certain officers targeting only bicyclists for violations (e.g., rolling through stop signs) selectively -- for example, never even giving motorists a ticket for the same thing, which is much more dangerous when done with a car -- they refused again and again. Seems like everyone has their own horror stories or at least knows a friend who does. It's time to make a strategy for how we can get the police on our side -- and protect the public from death and injury by motorcar -- rather than persecuting us for being more vulnerable and "different".... And Berkeley again http://cyclery.com/lists/sf-critical-mass/sf-critical-mass-archive-hyper/sf-critical-mass.200011/0013.html There is an enormous problem on our streets which is directly related to dangerous and aggressive driving. Berkeley boasts twice the statewide average for bicycle and pedestrian injuries. Reliable data for fatalities is not available. This problem is compounded by the fact that some police officers are biased against bicyclists. All around, there is a lack of education, sensitivity and understanding. The impact of this sad reality is that many people who would like to walk or bicycle do not because they are too scared or too discouraged: a vicious cycle which increases automobile dependence with all its harms. San Francisco: bike messengers mourn a friend http://www.messengers.org/features/articles/aft.moe.html In San Francisco, it's nearly impossible to get SFPD officers to fill out accident reports when a cyclist is involved. Those that are filed are nearly uniformly biased against cyclists, who are assumed to be at fault whenever there is a collision. At a recent Police Commission hearing, cyclists complained of cases where reporting officers have gone so far as to disregard accounts of eye witnesses and still place the cyclist at fault. From Seattle http://www.seattleweekly.com/features/0021/letters-readers.shtml As a downtown pedestrian, I wish something would be done about motorists whose road rage is often taken out on those of us who walk. I can usually count on having at least one "close call" with a car each day, between those who run lights, block intersections and crosswalks, and otherwise show a lack of regard for pedestrians. I hear a lot of stories about how Seattle cops are eager to pinch people for jaywalking. I suggest they be fair and take more time and effort to address the other part of the problem, namely drivers who believe their rights are absolute over pedestrians. How about ticketing those who are clueless behind the wheel as well as those who are clueless on foot? discussion in UK house of commons "motorists getting away with murder" theme UK House of Commons Debate I hope I'm convincing you that although one or two of the people I quote might be whiny cranks, they surely cannot *all* be whiny cranks :-) there is a real problem out there, and it is motorist privilege. see also the report "Killed by Automobile": http://www.transalt.org/campaigns/cyclingnuz/cycling_deaths_0300.html It is becoming apparent that the way the police conduct crash investigations leaves much to be desired. NYC would be well served by adopting the ?coroner?s inquest? system used by Toronto. There, every cycling and pedestrian fatality is investigated by the coroner?s office the same way that murders are. This would inject an objective, public health perspective into a police culture which assumes that cyclists either kill themselves or die by ?accident.? Of course, looming above all is the much bigger cultural and legal problem that motorists who kill and maim almost always go unpunished. Oz again http://sunsite.anu.edu.au/community/pedalpower/cancycle/cc148.htm You will read in this issue's Liaison Report of the disturbing outcome of a recent coronial inquest in Canberra where the victim was blamed and the motorist not even charged. If Canberra drivers can kill cyclists with impunity then there is certainly room for improvement in terms of Objective 4.... GREAT essay about anti-pedestrian bias href=http://www.walksf.org/essays/pedsOftenBlamedArticle.html SF cyclists are still mourning Chris Robertson http://cyclery.com/lists/caboforum/caboforum-archive-hyper/caboforum.200011/0015.html I could go on. There's more, lots more, out there. But it's late and I need to stop now.