Driving Speed Background to the Story of Gabriel

Last November 9th, three people were struck and one killed by the driver of a pickup-truck on Central Avenue west of 98th Street on the City’s west side. We yesterday passed along an excerpt from the police investigation, and follow up today with an aspect of the case that, to be honest, doesn’t get examined much in police investigations of crashes in which those walking our roadways are killed.

Driving speed.

In most cases, particularly excluding those in which the driver is impaired, investigators arrive on the death scene and can’t talk to the victim because they are either already dead or unconsciously taking their last breaths. So, they talk mostly only to the driver and that conversation almost invariably goes like this:

Investigator: Driver, how fast were you going?
Driver: The speed limit.
Investigator: Oh, okay. Thanks. This fully concludes my investigation of the speed involved in this incident.

There are wrinkles to this investigatory method. Sometimes there are interviews with witnesses, far from every time, but those usually don’t involve discussions of driving speed. Quite often there’s no conversation with the driver at all. More about the remarkable frequency of hit-and-run cases and an example in our next blogpost.

In the convoluted horror witnessed by Gabriel last November, the driver of the pickup was found to be intoxicated. His truck was impounded and an investigator did something that, if done is ALL cases, would significantly increase our knowledge and might change our public policy regarding deaths to those walking our roadways.

The investigator examined data recorded by the Event Data Recorder, a “black box” for modern vehicles. These recorders capture:

  • Vehicle speed
  • Engine speed in RPM’s
  • Percent of throttle applied
  • Brake status (on or off)
  • State of driver’s seat belt (buckled or not buckled)
  • Time from vehicle impact to air bag deployments
  • Number of ignition cycles at time of impact
  • Delta-V (change in velocity) experienced

and much more.

Here’s an excerpt from the investigator’s report:

Bosch Report Central and 98th

If you haven’t been out to Central just west of 98th Street, the speed limit is 55 and it’s pitch dark at 11 at night. Seeing people in the roadway in time to evade them would be difficult even sober driving the speed limit.

But the driver wasn’t sober and wasn’t driving the speed limit. Not even close.

All of which gets us to complex questions regarding how investigations, laws, and public policy might be changed in ways that lead to greater roadway safety for all users. Just to pick a few:

  1. Should this driver be charged with something beyond a DUI for killing one and injuring two folks who were walking/standing/wandering (it’s unclear) a “mid-block crossing” on Central Avenue west of 98th Street?
  2. If so, what should that charge be? Reckless Driving? Involuntary manslaughter?
  3. Might it be possible for ALL crash investigations to include examination of any possible Event Data Retrieval equipment on-board? How much increased funding and law enforcement capacity would be required to make this happen?
  4. Speaking of investigations, one big current constraint in examining crash scenes and interviewing witnesses is the ever-present need to wrap the on-site investigation up and reopen the roadway. People gotta get places! What can we do about this constraint?

As is almost always the case in public policy, “complex” means money, but it also means community mindset and norms. Currently, the investigatory norm for pedestrian fatalities is:

If you’re trying to cross a street at anywhere other than a signalized crosswalk and get killed, we’re just gonna ask the driver how fast they were driving and have them blow into a breathalyzer. If the driver says “the speed limit” and the breathalyzer comes back “sober,” we’re never, ever gonna look at a Event Data Recorder. Period.

In fact, the scope of what doesn’t investigating is even broader than that. We’ll get into that more with our look at a hit-and-run walking death in the next blogpost.


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