True democracy is only possible with the daily participation of vigilant and active citizens. Periodic elections and public administrations are of course critical building blocks for a democratic society; but without an active citizenry the full benefits of democracy evade us. As active citizens we are obliged to act as “a thorn in the side of possibly hesitant administrators, politicians and businessmen in denial; and through our joint efforts, energy and personal choices, placing them and ourselves firmly on the path to a more sustainable and more just society.”
Here is one fine example from New York City, in which a public interest group, Streetsblog, makes sure that the public at large is informed of what is taking place on the city’s streets, in terms of death and injury that are produced in the main by drivers of larger, heavier, faster vehicles unwillingness to give way to other cars, and above all pedestrians and cyclists. Every Friday morning their “The Weekly Carnage” column tallies up and presents the previous seven days’-worth of motor vehicle mayhem from around the region: death, injuries and property damage. A telling lesson for public authorities and the media.
Who is doing this important job in your city?
This is a grim and depressing task. But we do it because by drawing attention to the scope of the problem of the death and destruction caused by automobiles, we hope to also draw attention to the solution: pursuing policies that cause people to reduce the amount they drive, while promoting mass transit, walking and cycling. Car crashes are typically isolated events with limited resonance beyond the few people involved and their loved ones. Yet they are a pervasive societal problem that goes undetected by the collective consciousness precisely because they are so frequent. This column will hopefully chip away at public apathy about automobile-caused death and destruction.
Here is a snapshot of the problem.
Automobile crashes are the leading cause of death of Americans aged 1 to 34, and worldwide for people aged 10 to 24. In 2005, 43,443 people were killed in traffic crashes in the United States, the equivalent of more than 16 Iraq wars (as of the war’s American casualty count in August 2006). In New York City, 297 people were killed in traffic crashes in the city’s 2005 fiscal year (7/1/04 to 6/30/05), or one person every 29-and-a-half hours. In the New York State, New Jersey and Connecticut region, 2,515 people were killed in traffic crashes in 2004 (the latest year for which data are available), or one person every three-and-a-half hours.
Automobile engineers and legislators have spent decades focusing their energy on making cars less deadly (adding air bags, side impact protection systems, requiring people to wear seat belts), but there hasn’t been an equal effort at getting people to drive less. The gains from improved technology, anti-DWI campaigns and seatbelt laws have been wiped out as the total number of annual vehicle miles traveled has gone up. Likewise, as American cars have grown bigger and more dangerous, there have only been minimal efforts to make conditions outside of the automobile safer for pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles.
Injuries & “Accidents”
Accounts that you will find linked to in this column will no doubt gloss over the injuries caused by crashes. If they are reported at all, they’ll be reported as an afterthought to the deaths. A person who loses a leg is written up as “an injury.” A person who loses an eye or two? Same thing. A person who is paralyzed from the neck down? That’s just an “injury,” the same way that a bloody nose would be written up as an “injury.” In general, all of these crashes are called “accidents,” even when the news story reports that the motorist intentionally hit someone with his vehicle.
The word “accident” conveys the sense that these 40,000+ deaths per year are completely unavoidable, that no one is ever at fault, that nothing can possibly be done. Streetsblog’s policy is to refer to these incidents as “crashes.” We think that it is a much more objective term than “accident.”
Property Damage Many times each day, cars hit other cars, they hit trees, they hit parking meters and street signs and fences and they plow into houses and businesses. Much of the infrastructure most at risk of being hit by cars has had to be hardened against the potential. Bollards protect telephone booths, and street signs are poured in concrete lest they be bent over. Most property damage probably never makes the news, but when it does, it will be included here.
Driving less. New York City’s low per capita car use makes it much safer on this count than the rest of the nation. There were just 3.65 deaths per 100,000 New York City residents in 2005, compared to 15.06 deaths per 100,000 Americans as a whole. (New York State had 7.77 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2004, a lower figure than any state except Massachusetts [7.42] and Rhode Island [7.68].)
A Note on the Coverage Area This column will attempt to include news from around the region, as it is defined by the Regional Plan Association: New York City, Long Island, seven counties of the lower Hudson Valley, 14 counties in northern New Jersey, and three counties in western Connecticut. Sometimes the column will include news of region’s residents who are involved in crashes that happen elsewhere. Send links for this column via Streetsblog tips.
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The Weekly Carnage: From Streetsblog. Posted: 25 Jun 2010
Fatal Crashes (2 Killed This Week, 68 This Year, 10 Drivers Charged*)
Central Harlem: Sister Mary Celine Graham, 83, Killed by Robbery Suspects Fleeing Police; 2 Other Pedestrians Injured; 2 Charged With Murder (Streetsblog 1, 2, DNAinfo, News)
Eltingville, SI: Anthony Rizzo, 16, Hit by Driver While Walking to School on June 8, Dies From Injuries; No Charges Filed (Advance, NY1)
Injuries, Arrests and Property Damage
Marine Park: Man Steals (Idling?) Box Truck, Hits Two 12-Year-Old Girls (Post)
Upper East Side: 3-Cab Crash Sends One Into Storefront; 4 Injured; No Charges (DNAinfo, AP)
Fairmont-Claremont Village: Truck Driver Hits Elevated 2, 5 Tracks (NY1, Gothamist)
Carroll Gardens: Two-Driver Collision Leaves One Vehicle on Its Roof (Brooklyn Paper)
Concord, SI; Drunk Driver Hits 2 Cars in Front of Cop (Post Blotter)
SI: Four More Arrested for DWI Last Weekend (Advance)
Great Kills: Driver Cut From SUV After Hylan Blvd Crash (Advance)
Gowanus: Thief Caught by Owner of Stolen Jeep (Brooklyn Paper)
Williamsburg: Lamborghini Torched (New York Shitty)
Tottenville High Memorializes Janine Brawer on Graduation Day (Advance)
Brooklyn Cop Hit by Motorcycle in May Emerges From Coma (News)
DWI Killer Sentenced to Rehab for ’09 FDR Crash (DNAinfo)
Ridgewood: Judge Won’t Dismiss Cyclist Hit-and-Run Case Against Livery Cab Co. (Post Blotter)
In the Region, Out of Town
Syosset: Cab Driver Crashes Onto LIRR Tracks; Car Engulfed in Flames (Gothamist, AP)
Warrensburg: 2 Summer Camp Employees Run Over; Driver Charged With Homicide (WINS)
Monroe: Woman Injured in Collision With Brooklyn Commercial Truck Awarded $5M (News)
Atlantic City: Grisly Crash Throws Driver Under Chinatown Bus; Dozens Hurt (News)