BB Goes DCF: Beyond the Numbers of Pedestrian Fatalities

The oh-so-not inviting “sidewalk” on Blake at Coors, site of a 2016 pedestrian fatality

The numbers and reactions could be from just about anywhere in the United States these days, but today’s story on the spike in traffic crashes overall and pedestrian fatalities in particular comes from Los Angeles:

Pedestrians make up nearly half of the fatalities in traffic collisions, although they are involved in only 14% of total crashes, according to a city analysis of data from 2009 to 2013.

The city saw about 55,350 traffic collisions in 2016, which represents a 7% increase over 2015 and a 20% uptick from 2014. Those crashes include collisions between drivers, between drivers and pedestrians or bicyclists, and hit-and-run and DUI-related crashes.

“It’s shocking,” said LAPD Lt. David Ferry, who sits on the city’s Vision Zero committee. “It’s a number I can’t tolerate as a police officer.”

As regular readers here know, I’ve been looking into this situation in and around Albuquerque. The numbers and percentages seen in LA above generally match what is happening here. More crashes, more pedestrians being killed.

But there’s something missing in reciting numbers and percentages, regardless of location. The humanity involved. I’ve looked through crash reports, and in some cases police investigations, involving all 2016 pedestrian fatalities in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County. And while a crash report understandably tries to stick to simple facts (time, location, speed, etc.), embedded in these reports are mentions and quotes that reveal how horrifying these incidents are, for everyone involved:

  • An 18-year old driver hits someone on Rio Bravo and the deceased cartwheels over the car, smashing and becoming lodged, “lying in the broken rear window face down in the trunk area.”
  • Several witnesses see a pedestrian struck and dragged 822 feet (again, facts) along Broadway before the deceased dislodges from a truck whose driver, while observed by witnesses, can only make it to a nearby friend’s house due to damage.
  • Witnesses see a woman in a wheelchair struck on Wyoming and their information helps officers track down an impaired driver.
  • After striking someone on a busy, unlighted stretch of Coors, a motorist is, in the words of the reporting officer, “extremely affected by the collision with this pedestrian,” to the point of forgetting to turn off the car engine while being interviewed by the officer. When asked to turn off the engine, the distraught driver “not only turned off his engine, but handed me his keys.”
  • There are many mentions in these reports of personal calls from drivers to priests and other religious counselors.

Regarding blame, and we as humans are always interested in discovering and assigning blame, it’s a mixed bag. Some cases are of the “no crosswalk, unlit roadway, dark clothing” variety, another has a pedestrian “lying down in the fetal position” on Gibson Boulevard prior to being struck. There is driver impairment, inattention and fleeing the scene. There is the driver who leaves the scene because “her phone is dead” and then, perhaps inexplicably, leads officers to the wrong side of the Interstate.

I say “perhaps inexplicably” in the last case because what is very, very clear, amid the humanity-free numbers of these crash reports is just how psychically traumatizing these events are. Killing somebody, innocently or otherwise, is a life-changing event. From afar, we read or just skim the scant media reports on these individual incidents and read stories like that from the LA Times today with tons of numbers and percentages. Our reaction ranges from something like “Oh, that’s too bad” and quickly move on to whatever else our brain can latch on to for a few seconds, to thoughts of “Well, people walking in the road get what they deserve.”

Until we get to the real humanity of what’s going on in these cases, we’re not getting the point and we’re not going to, as a society, do anything meaningful and substantive about this issue. We’re going to continue designing roads poorly, continue to fail in our enforcement of speeding, distraction and jaywalking, and generally just go on with our merry day, until it’s us who, quite accidentally, or for whatever reason, hits a guy who ends up in our smashed rear window, gets hit while crossing the street in our wheelchair or hands our car keys to an officer without being asked.

Because we’re that traumatized.

Be safe our there, driving, cycling or walking our streets. Be safer than you feel is needed, especially these days.

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