The fact is, drivers kill a lot of pedestrians. Outside of central cities, driving is primarily hazardous to drivers; they’re traveling at speeds high enough to hurt themselves despite being inside a ton or two worth of metal box, and there simply aren’t very many non-drivers near the roads. But in cities, cars rarely go fast enough to kill drivers, but they’re nearly always going fast enough to hurt the fleshy mammals propelling themselves around the city on foot or bike. Quite often, these deaths are due in part to road and sidewalk design failures. Many other times, the pedestrians themselves are at least partially at fault. But in practically every situation, some of the fault lies with the driver piloting the large, dangerous hunk of metal. You’d think that if you’re the one behind the wheel of the fast, large, deadly vehicle, then the onus would be on you to avoid the slow, small, fleshy people surrounding you. In most news accounts, this is not the assumption.
In fact, most news accounts present the driver as a mere bystander, an observer without any agency. See here for several examples. It’s striking how pervasive this phenomenon is. I don’t mean to pick on Sommer Mathis — she’s a good friend, who does an excellent job editing DCist — but consider that she is almost surely more sympathetic to the bikers and walkers in the District, and yet this morning’s Morning Roundup post reads:
Briefly Noted: Fenty kills crime lab contract after appeals ruling … Two women fatally struck by vehicles in the District over the weekend … Suspect injured in officer-involved shooting in Southeast … 14th Street lane shifts begin.
Fatally struck by vehicles. Again, in fairness to Sommer, that’s the language used at the linked Post story. But look, those vehicles didn’t do a thing. One person in a vehicle hit another person not in a vehicle, killing the person not in the vehicle. I think the psychological result of getting into a car is often unappreciated. A driver — myself included — immediately feels entitled to deference on the road, to that point that they may become actually angry with other drivers, and with the pedestrians and cyclists who insist on making drivers travel somewhat more slowly, or wait to turn right, or generally make the process of commuting less than an unimpeded sprint from point A to point B. The language used in these stories reinforces this mindset — that the vehicle is vested with some kind of agency or authority. It allows drivers to shrug and say, hey, I’m in a vehicle, others had better watch out for me.
People like Randal O’Toole refer to traffic calming measures as efforts to create congestion in order to screw drivers and deny them their freedom. In fact, they’re necessary to counteract the strange transformation that takes place when one sits behind the wheel of a car, and to prevent pedestrians from getting killed for daring to walk from one place to another. Obviously, O’Toole feels that if they really cared about freedom they’d buy a car and drive it everywhere.