“You can’t tackle our rising epidemic of roadway deaths without tackling speeding.” – Robert L. Sumwalt, Chairman, United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)
Everyone agrees with Chairman Sumwalt; however, the central importance of speed in roadway deaths is inadequately reflected in crash reporting and investigations by the Albuquerque Police Department. Mirroring underreporting nationwide, APD investigations strongly tend to latch on to other factors, such as “pedestrian error,” without thoroughly examining driver speed as primary or contributing factor.
Let’s briefly look at just one of many examples from our ongoing perusal of 2019 APD pedestrian fatality investigations.
On January 3, 2019, Royden Bobelu was killed evidently trying to cross Lomas Boulevard between University Blvd. and Buena Vista NE. Bobelu was perhaps first struck by a driver in a Honda Civic who fled the scene, as outlined below.
BB readers who take this stretch of Lomas might have noticed something mentioned in passing, twice, above. The posted speed limit on this stretch of Lomas is 35 mph. It says so right on page one of the Bobelu case crash report:
Yet outside of these two passing references, and the posted speed right there on page one of the crash report, speed and speeding is NEVER mentioned anywhere else in the report, including the conclusion by its lead investigator:
The determination is solely “pedestrian error,” because Bobelu was trying to cross Lomas at a place without a signalized crosswalk. A close reading of this and the other 41 APD pedestrian fatality reports repeatedly reveals a similar failure to adequately consider speed with regard to even simple questions such as:
- Would the driver have been able to avoid the pedestrian if they had been driving 35 mph instead of 45 mph?
- When a person admits driving 45 in a 35, might it be rather possible they were actually driving faster than 45?
- Given these driving speeds estimates, including that of a driver who fled the scene, wouldn’t it be appropriate to at least mention speed as a probable contributing factor in this case?
As mentioned earlier, law enforcement underreporting of speed is crash investigations is a national problem. A review of crash reports/investigations by the National Safety Council (NSC) found:
Collecting data from a crash scene may be seen as merely “filling out accident reports” for violation and insurance purposes. Data collection efforts immediately following a crash provide a unique opportunity to help guide prevention strategies. Currently, some states are recording this type data and others are not. When data of this kind is requested to be reported on a crash report and is entered, prevention professionals will have the data to better understand driver and non-motorist behaviors. When this data is not recorded, prevention professionals are left guessing.
Nearly all crash reports NSC reviewed have contributing circumstance or driver factor fields to record “excessive speed,” “unsafe speed,” “exceeding the speed limit” and “driving too fast for conditions.” Only 20 crash reports quantified speed by recording the estimated miles per hour traveled before crashes. This is useful to better quantify the involvement of speed in crashes on various roadways.
Jurisdictions pledging to reduce roadway deaths and serious injury obviously have to do a better job of investigating speed as a factor in crashes. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s Vision Zero pledge can only transform from mere words to actions if ABQ crash analysis far more fully “tackles speeding,” as urged by NTSB Chairman Sumwalt and countless others.
P.S.: Readers might have noticed use of the term “unfounded” in the investigatory conclusion above. Noting that “case unfounded” generally indicates a finding that no crime was committed, BB is doing some follow-up to better understand what the term means to APD and the BernCo DA’s office in this context.
This is particularly important, as “case unfounded” is the finding in several 2019 pedestrian fatality cases involving a combination of hit-and-run drivers and pedestrians trying to cross outside of signalized crosswalks. We’ll let you know what we find out regarding what looks, on first glance, to be a disturbing assertion that hit-and-run driving isn’t a crime.