Cars Don’t Hit Pedestrians, Drivers Do

This past week, several people were injured or killed in traffic collisions. The English language was also savaged by media organizations reporting on the incidents.

Each article eventually mentions drivers – no driverless cars here! – but in roundabout ways. When there is a crash involving a vehicle and a pedestrian, the driver of the car is set up as little more than a witness.

But cars didn’t cause any of these collisions. A driver hit each one of these people, using a vehicle. Knives don’t stab people of their own volition. Clubs are not accused of beating people. But cars are given agency in the language of the write up, and drivers are afterthoughts. The car is glorified.

Even as many media outlets move away from the word “accident” – as these articles do – the language still in use continues to neuter the issue. “Driver Hits and Kills Pedestrian” has a far different ring, as does “Driver, Vehicle Collide With Pedestrian” or “Driver Strikes Horse-Drawn Buggy; Two Killed.”

In 2002, two authors in the Journal of Traumatic Stress asserted the following, per abstract:

We assert that motor vehicle crash should replace motor vehicle accident in the clinical and research lexicon of traumatologists. Crash encompasses a wider range of potential causes for vehicular crashes than does the term accident. A majority of fatal crashes are caused by intoxicated, speeding, distracted, or careless drivers and, therefore, are not accidents. Most importantly, characterizing crashes as accidents, when a driver was intoxicated or negligent, may impede the recovery of crash victims by preventing them from assigning blame and working through the emotions related to their trauma.

A majority of fatal crashes are caused by intoxicated, speeding, distracted, or careless drivers and, therefore, are not accidents. While this article focused on crash vs. accident, it also clearly lays out that these crashes are caused by drivers. Rare is the incident where the driver is not at least careless when they kill a pedestrian. As a driver, I’m challenged to come up with a scenario where hitting someone while backing one’s car out of a parking spot isn’t driver carelessness. I drive a tiny car, and sure, I get that when you have giant SUVs on either side you have to creep backward. You don’t kill someone and hit a second car creeping backward. Hitting a horse and buggy and managing to kill everyone, including the horse? Driving isn’t being done with appropriate respect for the killing power of the machine in use. And while maybe we can lay some blame on street design in some cases (Tori 44 is having some issues there), drivers still need to operate suitably to the design.

Outlets need to stop deferring the role of the operator in the collision. If the car isn’t driverless, the driver is the agent. If media need to dance around fault, they should borrow language from their other crime coverage. “Driver accused of hitting pedestrian” is still a far step up for assigning appropriate agency.

About Julie Kosbab

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005, and is no longer lonely in that calling. A past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association, she has 2 children and a garage full of bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations, or read her (seldom updated) blog at Ride Boldly!

69 thoughts on “Cars Don’t Hit Pedestrians, Drivers Do

  1. Anon

    All of the news articles cited (except maybe the city pages one) were written about active investigations, most explicitly state as much. Absent an official finding, news outlets default to vague and non-judgmental language to avoid legal jeopardy. Even though most accidents are caused by carelessness, any particular accident may not be. Without a conclusive investigation, it is wrong to assume (and publish) that the driver is at fault.

    While I agree that we need to change the way we talk and think about car accidents, this is the wrong battle to fight because it is wrong and unwinnable.

    Per the definition of the word “accident”, this assertion is wrong:

    A majority of fatal crashes are caused by intoxicated, speeding, distracted, or careless drivers and, therefore, are not accidents.

    A death caused by a carelessly-driven vehicle is unambiguously within the dictionary definition of the word ‘accident’. (see below)

    1a : an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance
    Their meeting was an accident.
    b : lack of intention or necessity : CHANCE
    They met by accident rather than by design.
    2a : an unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance
    was involved in a traffic accident
    b medical : an unexpected and medically important bodily event especially when injurious
    a cerebrovascular accident
    c law : an unexpected happening causing loss or injury which is not due to any fault or misconduct on the part of the person injured but for which legal relief may be sought
    d US, informal —used euphemistically to refer to an uncontrolled or involuntary act or instance of urination or defecation (as by a baby or a pet)
    The puppy had an accident on the rug.
    3 : a nonessential property or quality of an entity or circumstance

    1. Julie Kosbab Post author

      You can assign responsibility without assigning criminal intent or charges.

      Save in extremely rare cases, drivers are responsible for the trajectory of their vehicles, just as pedestrians are considered responsible for the trajectory of their feet, and cyclists are considered responsible for the trajectory of their wheels.

    2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      These articles are simply inaccurate. None of these cars took any action. Writing as though they did is misleading.

      Assigning agency to the one who actaully acted is not the same as assigning blame.

  2. Trent

    So when a plane crashes should we from now on (until proven otherwise) headline it “Pilot crashes”? unless they were on autopilot at that exact point, I guess.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      Well maybe if they were sleeping, drunk, or whatever, then sure. Airplane pilots are far more listened and regulated than car drivers… More often it’s a mechanical issue.

      But I would imagine that in the case of small one- or two-person small aircraft, your framing is exactly how it’s often done.

    2. Eric SaathoffEric Saathoff

      Isn’t the pilot responsible for not crashing the plane? Maybe it’s the pedestrian on the street that was at fault.

  3. Joe

    Both of these framings (vehicles killing peopler vs drivers killing people) don’t place any blame on the engineers, who design roads where people are driving at unsafe speeds.

    1. Julie Kosbab Post author

      I grant that as an issue. The restaurant that keeps getting hit is absolutely a victim of bad design, although it can also be argued that they may also be victim to people taking the design at unsafe operating speed. The idea that each road must deliver vehicular traffic at the highest possible velocity can be a mindset for some in how they operate.

      I get tail-gated alla time doing 30 in a 30 zone in Minneapolis.

      1. Andrew Evans

        I got passed on west river road around the U of M bridge. I would have called them in, but was to amazed they used their turn signals when passing.

        My favorite is getting passed like I’m standing still on Lyndale in front of my house in North. My partner and I are completely amazed that more pedestrians don’t get hit up there.

  4. Anon

    Journalists have professional ethics that prevent them from assigning responsibility without specific and verifiable facts. Journalists won’t imply that a driver is at fault just because drivers are normally at fault.

      1. Anon

        The first line of the article:

        A bicyclist allegedly ran a red light at a busy intersection just south of downtown Minneapolis late Monday and was killed when he was struck by a car, police said.

        The Journalists are reporting the fact of what the police said; they are not suggesting anything on their own.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      That the driver acted and the car did not does not imply anything about fault.

      “A negligent driver hit a pedestrian” is a judgment about fault.

      “A person driving a car hit a pedestrian in a crash” is neutral as to fault.

      1. Julie Kosbab Post author

        Adam gets what I’m after.

        Unless you have an autonomous car, we aren’t saying anything but that if anything gets charged, it is going to be the driver.

        As an aside, when one driver rear-ends another car (idle or with operator), the assumption under law is that the person doing the rear-ending is at fault. This is regardless of things like weather or road conditions. So I am really quite baffled as to why this wouldn’t be the case when someone rear ends a horse buggy so hard they kill 2 people and a horse, and I am also baffled that there is not a presumption of this when a vehicle collides with a vulnerable user at all.

        169.14: “Every driver is responsible for becoming and remaining aware of the actual and potential hazards then existing on the highway and must use due care in operating a vehicle. In every event speed shall be so restricted as may be necessary to avoid colliding with any person, vehicle or other conveyance on or entering the highway in compliance with legal requirements and the duty of all persons to use due care.”

        And before anyone asks, 169.011 sub. 81 makes clear “highway” also means “street.”

        1. Russ Booth

          I like this one:

          “609.224 ASSAULT IN THE FIFTH DEGREE.

          Subdivision 1.Misdemeanor.
          Whoever does any of the following commits an assault and is guilty of a misdemeanor:
          (1) commits an act with intent to cause fear in another of immediate bodily harm or death; or
          (2) intentionally inflicts or attempts to inflict bodily harm upon another.”

          Did you intend to cause me to fear when you rolled through the stop sign while seeing me there cross in the crosswalk? Or were you driving unintentionally? I definitely was afraid.

          Hauling away a few drivers in handcuffs would send a strong message that intentionally traumatizing peds and bikers with a light braking foot is not a normal or acceptable activity as is in fact criminal according to the statute.

          We are a long way though from anybody thinking that a threat to human life using a motor vehicle – and not a gun – is anything people should be very concerned about. (Was it a crash or an accident?) And I would guess it happens about one time per second in any large city.

          Subd. 3. of the statute is titled Firearms. Subdivision 3b does not exist but could be entitled Automobiles.

            1. Russ Booth

              Exactly! Because threatening your fellow citizens with the way you operate your motor vehicle – all day, every day – is socially acceptable.

              Does it need to be this way? Can this situation ever change?

              1. Monte Castleman

                No, because as is clear in the statute you quoted for it to legally be “assault” there has to be intent. We have something called “due process’ in this country. Running a stop sign doesn’t require intent, it is what it is, but if you’re afraid of someone’s bad driving and it’s nothing more than ordinary traffic violations it’s not going to be possible to prove before a jury that the motorist had any intent rather than just being a bad driver. Whereas if someone points a gun at you that’s would be rather easy to prove intent to cause fear.

                1. Russ Booth

                  Running a stop sign does not require intent – to comply with traffic law. If someone’s illegal behavior causes others to fear, why isn’t it criminal? “But officer, I wasn’t driving my car intentionally!”

                  If someone does not *intend* to stop at a stop sign – and the way some people drive, it seems they NEVER intend to stop at stop signs unless they would crash with another motor vehicle – the trauma it causes to pedestrians and bikers is not any different from the trauma of having a gun pointed at them: Fear of imminent bodily harm or death. Adrenaline and cortisol flood their bloodstream. This harm is the reason for the above law.

                  But it’s “okay” to cause such trauma with a motor vehicle, the ownership and use of which is a privilege, and it is not okay to do so with a gun, the ownership of which has been determined to be a right.

                  If you roll through every stop sign when there is no chance of hitting another car, or only look left when making a right turn on red – while a crowd gathers at the corner afraid to cross in front of the inattentive driver – the harm caused to the public is not biologically different from the harm caused by waving a gun around.

                  Why is the harm caused by one (the gun) taken very seriously by the law, but the other (the automobile) just “is what it is”.

                  What is considered terrorism when done with a gun is just everyday life – oh well – when done with an automobile. It does not need to be this way.

                  1. commissar

                    that’s just plain old idiotic. “But it’s “okay” to cause such trauma with a motor vehicle, the ownership and use of which is a privilege, and it is not okay to do so with a gun, the ownership of which has been determined to be a right. ” the difference here is INTENT. if you INTENTIONALLY run someone over, you’ll get assault, etc. same as if you INTENTIONALLY shoot a gun at someone as opposed to an accidental discharge

                    1. Russ Booth

                      I decline to describe you or your idea by any negative words.

                      The wording of the statute above does not require shooting the gun but only pointing it. But let’s pursue your lead.

                      I shoot my gun over my shoulder to my rear, wearing a blindfold. Obviously I did not intend to shoot anybody. No harm, no foul, right?

                      Why don’t people just dodge the bullet? Why do people think I did anything wrong if I was not looking in the direction that I shot?

                    2. commissar

                      russ, that would be considered felony reckless discharge of a firearm, under mn609.66 subd 1a.

                      (a) Whoever does any of the following is guilty of a felony and may be sentenced as provided in paragraph (b):
                      (2) intentionally discharges a firearm under circumstances that endanger the safety of another; or”
                      and, if you kill somone, that fall under 619.19 subd2 aka 2nd degree murder.

                      traffic offenses are not usually felonies, and if that’s what you’re trying to get to, i think it would be rather absurd. failure to yield to pedestrian is a misdemeanor w/ a $100 fine plus $75 in fees.

                  2. Monte Castleman

                    The reason we don’t criminalize unintentionally causing fear is because we have no way of knowing what someone else may or may not be afraid of. By your logic if I wear a shirt with a picture of a spider on, and someone at the store is afraid of spiders, that should be a crime.

                    If I’m walking down the street and a motorist fails to yield to me I assume that they’re either in a hurry and rude, or else didn’t see me, not that they have the intent to run me down.

                    1. Russ Booth

                      So someone might not be afraid of getting hit by or dragged under someone’s motor vehicle. This is a fear that is equivalent to arachnophobia and you can’t tell by looking who might have this fear. Got it.

                      If I am a motorist and I am willing to threaten all pedestrians and bicyclists with lethal force because I know the law and want to shave seconds off my commute, there is no need for me to ever consider that a pedestrian might enter a crosswalk – and only looking to my left when rolling through the stop is socially acceptable. It is intentional that I try to never bring my vehicle to a full stop – how could the way I drive my car not be intentional? – but nobody would ever know my intent unless I confess it.

                      Your assumption about my intent while driving is extremely charitable. Your observation about what people might fear is way off base.

                      My intent didn’t seem to figure in when I was shooting my gun over my shoulder – even though I put on a blindfold to prove that I had no intent to shoot anybody.

                      You are stating the current paradigm – pedestrians will inevitably be traumatized by the way people operate motor vehicles. I am pointing out that, under the law, guns are more special than motor vehicles but we treat threatening others with the operation of motor vehicles as more special than the the way we treat threatening people with guns.

                      Can you tell which people are afraid of bullets by looking at them? (And I made a point of NOT looking in my example.)

                    2. Monte Castleman

                      Correct. I can walk down the street without the fear that every motorist that breaks a traffic law is personally out to run me down.

                    3. commissar

                      ah cripes, russ, why don’t we just throw everyone that breaks a traffic law in jail, see where that lands society.

                      your line of reasoning is just plain pedantic.and you’re twisting the definition of intent five ways from Friday.

  5. Kjell Olsen

    This calls to mind a podcast – I wish I could remember which one – that spent a few minutes on the history of how car companies realized they needed to fix their “we are killing people and it is tarnishing our efforts to market and sell more cars” problem. One of the things they did was offer to pay newspapers in order for the newspapers to let representatives from the auto industry “write the article” when a traffic accident occurred. This was commonplace in the US starting in the 30s-40s if my memory serves. They shoved the blame at the feet of irresponsible “jaywalkers”, gaslit the nation, and ultimately shifted popular perception to devalue non-automotive transportation by the 50s.

    Whoever is in charge needs to go further than shifting the language used in news articles and put the improved semiotics into the law. Enlightened countries put the burden of proof on the driver in the case of a collision with a non-driver, and we should too.

    > Shifting the cost of bicycle-automobile accidents to automobile drivers will even out the consequences between cyclists and drivers, encouraging drivers to drive more safely, creating safer roads, and encouraging cycling—an environmentally friendly method of transportation—in place of driving a carbon emitting automobile.

    (Colleen Maker, Strict Liability in Cycling Laws to Ready the Roads for Environmentally Friendly Commuting, 42 B.C. Envtl. Aff. L. Rev. 473 (2015),

      1. Kjell

        I hadn’t seen that video, though it’s great and I wish everybody would watch it and suddenly agree we’ve been mislead for the past 100 years and cars should be banned from our streets…

        It was a podcast, and the person talking on the podcast might have been the same as who “Adam” cites for that passage of his video: Peter Norton. I remember it was the first time I had heard the term “motordom” (the shady cabal of automotive interests who undertook the social/cultural propaganda effort to embed cars into the fabric of society) cites

        > When [long-term solutions in the strict regulation of automobile traffic] started appearing, and with more oppressive proposals on the horizon, automotive interests (or “motordom,” as they called themselves) discovered that their greatest danger lay in the prevailing social construction of the street. To secure an urban future for the car, they would have to win a legitimate place for it in the street and cast doubt on the legitimacy of those who stood in the way.

        It has the goods on Motordom paying off newspapers to change what was at that point coverage of “automobile deaths” into coverage of unfortunate accidents to be blamed on the victims. Under the heading “The Legitimation of Jaywalking as a Word”:

        Other papers with big Sunday automobile sections became newsprint cheerleaders for their [auto industry] sponsors. The Washington Star was on very friendly terms with the American Automobile Association, which often used the paper, through press releases, as a publicity agent. The paper frequently reprinted, verbatim, articles written at AAA, without comment and under the names of Star reporters.91 In 1923 the Chicago Motor Club began buying space in the Chi- cago Tribune for periodic “Traffic Talks,” where it publicized findings proporting to show that the “reckless pedestrian” caused “almost 90%” of the collisions between automobiles and people. The solution? “Don’t jay walk.” It soon organized its own “accident prevention department” to collect and interpret accident statistics for itself. In newspapers and on the radio, the club used its findings for “berating the careless pedestrian.”

        To reshape coverage coast to coast, Graham proposed a variation on these techniques. Instead of purchasing space in dozens or hundreds of newspapers, NACC launched a central accident news service. To “make sure that the reporter gets and records the essential facts,” newspapers reported accidents on blank forms NACC supplied.93 NACC assembled completed forms, drawing its own conclusions about where blame lay. It then reported its statistics back to the papers, together with proposals for accident prevention.

        Graham explained that motordom would thus “make the newspaper a clearing house” for the industry’s “safety suggestions.” NACC hoped that participating newspapers would “be influenced . . . to give greater publicity to the real causes of traffic accidents.”94 If it worked, the plan would put NACC ahead of the National Safety Council as the most influential national authority on traffic accidents. Even before the first filled-out accident forms came back to NACC, Graham knew what they would prove: “In a majority of automobile accidents the fault is with the pedestrian rather than with the automobile driver.”

        Those who carefully followed newspaper coverage of accident statistics perceived a change in tone within months. By November 1924, Bruce Cobb, magistrate of New York City’s Traffic Court, noticed that “it is now the fash- ion to ascribe from 70 to 90 per cent of all accidents to jaywalking.” News- papers’ use of the word in 1924 alone seems to have matched or exceeded their total use of it in all years prior to 1923. Cobb suspected the auto industry’s influence was behind the new trend. “I am not sure,” he wrote, “but that much of the blame heaped upon so-called ‘jaywalkers’ is but a smoke screen, to hide motordom’s own shortcomings as well as to abridge the now existing legal rights of the foot travelers on our streets.” Cobb was not easily misled— accident figures, he knew, were “a matter of the viewpoint of the statistician”—but to others statistics bore almost scriptural authority.

        Peter Norton – Jaywalking and the Invention of the Motor Age Street

    1. Anon

      Driver Strict Liability is an interesting idea. Thanks for posting. I was pretty resistant to the idea but after thinking about it, I changed my mind.

      I’m skeptical that it would directly reduce bicycle accidents, at least initially because drivers are insured and don’t cover most of the costs of their accidents. However, at the very least, it would make it easier for bicyclists to be compensated.

      Car insurance costs would uniformly increase. This is a good thing because it makes driving more expensive. Now, Insurance companies have a financial motivation to change the world to make bicycling safer. They might actually get something done.

      1. Rosa

        driver strict liability would work well with our current regulatory and oversight systems too – the other options are “no real liability” which is what we have, or licensing/enforcing for safety and competence, which would take a lot of change and effort by government (for instance, routinely testing drivers when giving licenses, and taking away licenses for safety issues rather than administrative ones.)

      2. commissar

        no, strict liability is a steaming pile of cow manure, abuse in the making!

        it put zero onus on the cyclists or pedestrians to uphold their end of the traffic laws. i.e. obeying signals, being visible, bike lights at night. cyclists have much the same responsibility to conduct themselves in a safe manner (which most commuters and serious riders do).

        i don’t want to be held liable for some dumbass that bikes around with no reflectors, on a dark bike, with dark clothes at night. or the oblivious pedestrian that waltzes across an intersection against a “don’t walk” signal. or that pedestrian that runs out into traffic suddenly without warning. (i had that happen while i was towing a car once. barely stopped in time)

        1. Brian

          Years ago a pedestrian in downtown ran at full steam across the road after the light had turned red. My car barely brushed the pedestrian as I started to go when the light turned green. Why would I be 100% at fault for someone running across the road on a red light?

          1. Julie Kosbab Post author

            Why is someone considered 100% at fault for a rear-end collision when the driver in front of them jams on the brakes unexpectedly because they drop their phone in their lap?

            The reason is because the law says if you can’t stop in time for a hazard you’re going too fast.

            1. commissar

              but at the same time, if a driver cuts you off and jams on the brakes, if you can prove it, you’re not at fault.

            2. commissar

              this is more like a t-bone issue anyhow. the other party failed to obey a traffic law. you cannot be liable for other negligence.

        2. Anon

          My initial reaction was also negative, but I think it is an interesting idea that is worthy of fair consideration. The claim is that a biker’s behavior is moderated by her desire to stay alive rather than by financial considerations, so their behavior won’t change (much) under a strict liability regime. Meanwhile, folks with deep pockets (drivers, insurance companies) will have a financial motivation to make the infrastructure changes necessary to make bicycling safer.

          Strict liability does offend my moral sense of ‘fairness’, but public policy requires balancing competing interests for the greater good. As an insured driver, you are mostly insulated from the consequences of your bad driving and other people’s bad driving. We are in a ‘no fault’ state which means that your insurance company pays you, regardless of fault. Again, a fundamentally ‘unfair’ policy that creates great efficiency for society by preventing lawsuits.

          On another note, there is no 100% strict liability for rear-end accidents, but rather a rebuttable presumption that the person in the back is responsible. The rear-ender can overcome the presumption in a variety of ways, for example, showing that the cell-phone dropping lead-car swerved suddenly into your lane and stopped. This seems a good rule.

          1. Julie Kosbab Post author

            but rather a rebuttable presumption that the person in the back is responsible

            Yep. It’s not instant guilt, but it is a presumption. And I am STILL wondering why crashing through a horse buggy and killing 2 people and a horse doesn’t get that straight up, even if we want to debate a lot of the driver-ped stuff.

            1. commissar

              it probably is, but you don’t hear about it because it doesn’t make controversy for the news channels. it’s billed through the insurance of the at fault driver, and he’ll likely be charged.

              a death investigation, even one that’s a glaringly obvious traffic collision like this, takes a bit. they have to make sure all the ducks ar in a row, that the driver didn’t, say, have a medical issue that caused the crash, or whether he was drunk, etc.

  6. Mike

    This is kind of an absurd obsession with semantics over this particular topic which is not making it’s first appearance here. It is a general form of writing reports to assign agency to an inanimate object or organization without explicitly calling out the humans who pull the strings. Some recent examples you may be familiar with:

    “Minneapolis, Tackling Housing Crisis and Inequity, Votes to End Single-Family Zoning” – yes the city came to life and took it upon itself to change laws. Oh wait, that was the city council.

    “J&J moves to limit impact of Reuters report on asbestos in Baby Powder” – or was that J&J senior management.

    “Heart surgery cures extremely rare condition in four-year-old” – no it didn’t the surgeon did.

    “No injuries after train crashes into truck in downtown Tucson” The train had a conductor BTW.

    “Are your phone camera and microphone spying on you?” (probably China or Russia)

    Concrete tossed from overpass kills driver” – not the concrete’s fault.

    “Boeing 737 Passenger Jet Damaged in Possible Midair Drone Hit” – two people there to pin this one on

    on and on. you could re-write all of them to put a person in there but you’re not adding any real new insight to the headline. It’s not different then articles above.

    1. Rosa

      except that it’s part of a pattern we all see in daily life. “Traffic” is a hazard even though, magically, no drivers are. I go to leave a place, people see me with my bike helmet, they say “be careful, it’s dangerous out there!” but if I reply “That’s right, don’t hit anyone driving home!” they’d be super offended. “Traffic” is dangerous, “cars” are dangerous, “streets” are dangerous and yet it’s never, ever, ever any driver’s responsibility to not be dangerous. People can consider themselves totally responsible drivers while routinely speeding, not stopping until they’re in the middle of crosswalks, turning right while looking left. Even a driver who drives so badly they hit a human, or something larger than a human -a crowd of people, a buggy, a building, a train – unless there’s some specific thing they did (like drinking, or lately texting) other than driving very badly, they’re going to not only be held criminally blameless, they’re probably going to keep their license to drive.
      We talk about media coverage because it’s documented and we might be able to get their style changed (some MPR announcers have notably changed from “accident” to “crash” over the last few years). But the semantics are part of a much bigger issue.

      1. commissar

        ” turning right while looking left” because the majority of danger to the vehicle comes from the left. it’s simply logical. should they check the right side? sure, but the left is far more likely to present an issue.

          1. commissar

            no, im pointing out that it makes sense to most drivers, especially from the burbs (where you don’t have bike lanes for the most part), they will be used to looking only for other automobiles when making a right turn. any automobiles that would cause an issue when turning right, would be coming from the left. it’s a mindset issue.

        1. Rosa

          morally, they should be looking right – concerned about their danger to others, not only danger to themselves.

          In practice we teach drivers to only worry about danger to themselves, so they look left and drive right.

    2. Julie Kosbab Post author

      In several of your examples, you are dealing with entities with agency – cities and corporations have agency, and it tends to be aggregate. Several others, I would like to see agency assigned, honestly. The more we call out tech companies (who have agency in creating spyware in phones), the better. (Note: I work in tech.)

      I’ll also call out that the stopping distance of a train is such that generally if someone is stuck on the tracks, it still can’t be pinned on the train operators. The best, safest move for a driver stuck on the tracks is to get the hell out of that vehicle. Physics is against them. Similarly, the 737 pilot is not going to be able to dodge the average drone. Hell, there are birds bigger than that drone that they hit daily.

    3. Monte Castleman

      Then you have the common semantics here to view cars as inanimate objects and not full of people when you want to do things like reallocate space from people in cars to people on foot or on bicycles. “We need more space for people instead of cars”. Instead of “We need more space for people on foot instead of people in cars.

      Even the mission statement with “people centered transportation” as opposed to “cars” seems not to acknowledge that until we have Amazon package deliver driver-less cars, that cars are full of people. Seems we only want to acknowledge that real people use cars is when we want to blame the person for something or other.

          1. commissar

            most people can’t afford multiple vehicles, so they buy one that meets their needs as much as possible. if they haul more than 4 people once a month, that’s going to be a consideration to them when buying their daily vehicle.

    4. Trent

      Another double standard – almost always when a car and bike collision occurs the make and model of the car is listed but they never mention the make and model of the bike involved.

      1. Andrew Evans

        Well and Trent, part of it too is bikers thinking that the law will act as some kind of shield around them to protect them. A bike loses in a car vs bike accident, and it’s best, in my opinion (not an avid motorcycle rider, but at least I did ride at some time) to be defensive and try to avoid situations that could lead to issues.

        This means stopping or slowing down enough to double check intersections. Maybe not throwing a left hand turn arm out and going into that traffic lane, to shortly stop for a left hand turn in traffic – as opposed to maybe stopping at the cross walk and going across when the light changes. I’m not putting all the responsibility on bikers, everyone shares the road, but again that they get the short end of the deal if there is a accident.

        1. Rosa

          Since there are already so many natural consequences for cyclists maybe we need more legal/social ones for drivers?

  7. Andrew Evans

    Part of this is lack of law enforcement, ease of getting a drivers license, insurance rates, our culture, and road design.

    My partner and I just got back from a short two weeks in France, and put around a thousand miles on the rental car while there. I’m always amazed at the cultural differences we have with driving and pedestrians. There, everyone pretty much follows stop lights, stops in front of crosswalks, no running yellows, and they watch for and are pretty good with pedestrians – so long as people are in crosswalks. Oh, and pedestrians are very good about crossing in crosswalks on busy roads. Everyone pretty much knows what the other is doing, and is pretty comfortable with it. The same goes for bike lanes, and there any two wheel vehicle can use them, which is nice, and lane splitting works out well.

    We still haven’t looked into why that’s the case. We are guessing it’s due to them not handing out a license to anyone who sees one or more blinking lights, and who can read some letters on the top line of some chart. Or if it’s that insurance there is higher anyway (I’m sure it is), or that they would take potential accidents more seriously than we do. We’re not sure. Although they seem to rarely have any traffic police out (in fact we saw more of their national police with machine guns walking around than we did regular cops), and speeding tickets (they are serious when they have warnings about radar enforcement) aren’t expensive and just mailed to you.

    Over here it seems to be different. Our American dream, which anyone can be anything, seems to have extended to how we use the streets. No one stops before a cross walk, speeding is rampant, pedestrians walk anywhere sometimes, and even drivers think it’s ok to pass on west river road if they use a turn signal. We barely lock anyone up for DWI’s, let alone other dangerous infractions. Then we get all concerned when pedestrians get hit.

    The police, at least here in Mpls, don’t seem too concerned about anything let alone traffic laws and speeding. The bridges sometimes seem more like a drag strip from light to light, and larger streets seem to have a posted limit of 45 or more rather than 30. They also don’t get concerned about bikes, especially around the U of M, not having lights and riding along side traffic.

    Also, at least along West River Road, the crosswalks aren’t lit that well, and it’s sometimes hard to see people or bikes waiting to cross – or at least for me it is. I’m sure some of these incidents, or close calls, happen due to poor or thoughtless design.

    1. commissar

      it’s probably cultural. the US has a very individual-first culture, compared to europe. it’s actually quite infuriating sometimes.

      1. Russ Booth

        The US is also very large. Travelling around San Francisco non-motorized is much safer than doing the same in New York City due to cultural differences between the two cities. How does SF arrange that while NYC doesn’t?

        Admin *** I am trying to understand why there are no reply buttons under the posts of commissar and Monte above. Do you want my money and my interest in your site, but not my opinion? Can I get the last word by requesting that there be no reply button under my post? An explanation would be welcomed.

        If I were able to reply to Monte’s comment above (“Correct. I can walk down the street without the fear that every motorist that breaks a traffic law is personally out to run me down.”) I would say that the way I have successfully kept myself safe over hundreds of thousands of non-motorized city miles is to assume that any driver that has the opportunity to run me down will do so. I’m certain that I am not the only person who has adopted this position. I see this behavior in others daily.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          Russ, (not admin), the system only allows so many levels of reply before reaching a limit. Your exchange above reached it. But you can still add replies to that string by replying to the last comment with a reply button.

        2. commissar

          SF vs ny… that’s a good question, and i don’t see any obvious answers, although some of it may be indirectly due to climate… SF doesn’t ahve to deal with snow.

          as far as making the assumption… well, that’s why it requires proof of intent, otherwise you would have an absurd system where anyone can get arrested for doing nearly anything.

          1. Russ Booth

            It is safe to assume that an inanimate object has no intent.

            Since it is a moving violation to fail to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk, the driver of the inanimate object can be pulled over by police and cited for the infraction. It would be possible to ask the driver why they failed to yield to the pedestrian.

            If the driver’s reply refers to the laws of physics and the probable outcome of a collision, or if the reply is surprise that a pedestrian would dare walk in front of a moving vehicle, I believe that would prove intent according to the wording of MN Statute 609.224 – 5th degree assault, Subdivision 1. Misdemeanor.

            I do not want to see more people being charged with crimes but I would like to see the mindset of overly aggressive drivers change. Law enforcement is one way to influence the culture.

            1. commissar

              the reason you don’t get intent by that, is that simple negligence is not intent. you have to actually be able to prove that they intended to cause harm. once you consider just how unpredictable pedestrians and other drivers tend to be, i don’t think you have a snowballs chance in hell unless he is blatantly attempting to run you down (and you can prove it).

              sure, drivers do cause the accidents, not usually the cars themselves, but usually it’s just that, an accident.


              also, the reason you don’t see effort by law enforcement to strictly enforce traffic laws… is because there’s simply not enough of them. for example, there’s only 500 state troopers, and about 65 miles of highway each for any given shift. now, the numbers may be different for local pd, but they have many other crimes to handle, and very little community and political support these days.

              1. Russ Booth

                I should try harder to keep up with current events. MN Statute 169.13 – Reckless or Careless Driving was recently updated.

                There is no longer an expectation that a driver might behave in a “willful” or “wanton” manner. (The meaning of ‘wanton’ has gotten sexier over time.) Instead:

                “Subdivision 1. Reckless driving.
                (a) A person who drives a motor vehicle while aware of and consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the driving may result in harm to another or another’s property is guilty of reckless driving. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that disregard of it constitutes a significant deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.”

                It is, like 5th degree assault, a misdemeanor that includes a court date. Intent seems to be buried in there somewhere but without requiring proof of it.

                This next one considers other people’s rights(!):

                “Subd. 2. Careless driving.
                Any person who operates or halts any vehicle upon any street or highway carelessly or heedlessly in disregard of the rights of others, or in a manner that endangers or is likely to endanger any property or any person, including the driver or passengers of the vehicle, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

                Seems like a pretty low bar to meet.

                There was also a new check-box added to the standard citation form: endangerment.

                I also learned recently that the Stop for Me campaign in St Paul in 2018 had amazing results.

  8. Frank Phelan

    I think this is related to the way we treat drunk driving, which is to say not very seriously. And I think that the reason we don’t treat either of them seriously is that these are middle class crimes.

    If the penalty for bank robbery became 50 in the big house, it wouldn’t effect me personally because I’ll never rob a bank. (I may well be effected by broader social effects of that.)

    But getting a DWI after 3 beers? A lot of us can see our selves or a loved one in that situation. Carelessly running over a pedestrian, of cyclist? A lot us can see ourselves in that situation as well.

    It’s like that white college kid out in California that got a slap on the wrist because the judge figured he would go on to a “normal” life. Why let one bad moment ruin someone’s life? We don’t see it the same way when it’s a gang member charged with rape. But we should.

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