The Price We Gladly Pay

This column in today’s New York Times is heartbreaking:

There was videotape evidence that the man who killed Cooper did not yield. Witnesses corroborated that the driver was not paying attention.

I soon learned, however, that the Manhattan district attorney’s office would most likely not charge the driver who killed my son with criminal negligence.

The author, Dana Lerner, thinks she’s battling a legal system and law enforcement. She is not. She is actually battling an entire culture. And that means she will lose despite attempts by Mayor Bill de Blasio to mitigate traffic deaths in the city.

The cold hard facts of the matter: Tens of thousands of traffic deaths in the U.S. each year is the price we gladly pay for a traffic system (including enforcement) that largely allows us to self-righteously act in any damned way we please largely without penalty.

Well, obviously, we prefer that other people pay the utimate price.

We are all guilty. Every time we exceed the speed limit. Every time we dodge a rule because, well, no one is watching (and it seems safe). Every time we sigh with relief because the price we paid for a traffic ticket was easily affordable. Every time we applaud traffic engineering that makes it easier to drive faster with fewer obstacles (e.g. those damned things walking around on two legs). Every time we act like assholes because our tender convenience is just sooooo damned important.

We are all selfish assholes.

We are totally and completely happy to allow tens of thousands to die every year so that we can remain selfish assholes. And nothing will change until you accept that fact and find a way to be disgusted by it.

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Comments 14

  1. Anthony Carter wrote:

    Well said.

    Posted 30 Sep 2014 at 8:26 am
  2. Ian Cooper wrote:

    While I may be a selfish asshole, I have taken something of a stand: I haven’t knowingly broken a single traffic law since 2010. Since that time I never speed (not hard, since I’m car-free), I come to a full stop at Stop signs, I never run red lights (I didn’t before either), etc., etc.

    Posted 30 Sep 2014 at 8:53 am
  3. Steve A wrote:

    Ironically, didn’t you just argue for self-driving cars?

    Posted 30 Sep 2014 at 9:40 am
  4. Andy Cline wrote:

    Steve…ahem…don’t make me ban you! 🙂 haha!

    Posted 30 Sep 2014 at 11:20 am
  5. Khal Spencer wrote:

    One of the Time’s Picks comments sums up the prevalent culture of driving in the USA, i.e., if you don’t hold me accountable, I won’t hold you accountable, either:

    Ilya Shlyakhter
    Cambridge, MA 2 minutes ago

    As a juror, I would have a hard time convicting a driver for a split-second error, absent some considered reckless choice. To drive drunk, or to text while driving, are deliberate choices; you can choose never to do it. How do you choose never to have your mind float for a second? I’ve driven stretches of highway seemingly on autopilot, suddenly realizing that I have no explicit memory of the last few minutes of driving.

    Was this driver’s error more reckless than the many errors made that day by other drivers? From the tragic outcome we infer that yes, this driver was much more careless than others. But was he?

    Posted 30 Sep 2014 at 1:47 pm
  6. Ian Cooper wrote:

    “I’ve driven stretches of highway seemingly on autopilot, suddenly realizing that I have no explicit memory of the last few minutes of driving.”

    Yeah, but I suspect that’s because your brain discards the useless information. You are still perfectly attentive at the time – it’s just that you don’t need to remember that stuff.

    Posted 30 Sep 2014 at 5:02 pm
  7. fred_dot_u wrote:

    Interstate highways and similar stretches of roadway are mind-numbing. Urban and suburban roadways should not be. Driving a multi-ton machine on these roadways, sharing the road with other users such as cyclists and pedestrians mean that a driver should be cognizant of everything directly related to the operation of the motor vehicle, in a safe manner.

    Unfortunately, the article recognizes that such is rarely the case and that too many times, it is ignored even in court. I can’t recall where or when, but a news article described a police officer who made a right turn into a cyclist and was let off without penalty because he “didn’t see the bicyclist”, even though he or she had to overtake the cyclist in order to perform the turn. Reference was made to the driver being momentarily distracted, as if that was an acceptable reason to strike another road user.

    There is nothing acceptable with operating in this manner, yet it has become a regular event. Do you want to kill someone? Hit them with a motor vehicle.

    Posted 30 Sep 2014 at 5:36 pm
  8. Khal Spencer wrote:

    I can’t remember what I ate yesterday, but I can remember watching an oncoming car starting to make a left turn as I rode to work this morning, and calculating what I would do if the motorist kept coming. There are data, and there is background noise. Knowing the difference is kinda important.

    Posted 01 Oct 2014 at 3:25 pm
  9. Kevin Love wrote:

    Culture can change.

    Probably the biggest culture change in the USA in my lifetime was the overthrow of Jim Crow in the US South. In the 1950’s people would think that someone who accurately predicted today’s race laws was a crazy idealist. “Not going to ever happen” would be the response.

    Overthowing car culture is about the same as overthrowing Jim Crow. Not easy, but doable. And the right thing to do.

    Other places in the world have managed to successfully overcome car culture. Just look at this before-and-after video:

    Posted 01 Oct 2014 at 8:33 pm
  10. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Kevin is right. It can be done, but like Jim Crow, takes a long time and leaves a lot of carnage in its wake.

    Posted 01 Oct 2014 at 9:09 pm
  11. Ian Cooper wrote:

    Until cyclists can use every low-medium speed limit road that motorists can use, the Netherlands is still a car culture. People like Kevin pretend it isn’t, but a culture that is not car-centric cannot have rules that favor motorists over cyclists. That’s just the way it is.

    Heck, we’ve seen in Andy’s video how even cyclists in the Netherlands self-censor their road use and demonize those who attempt to use the road properly. The fact that cyclists in NL believe they have a cycling culture doesn’t mean they actually do.

    Posted 02 Oct 2014 at 4:37 am
  12. Kevin Love wrote:

    I have never encountered a low-medium speed limit road in NL that did not accomodate cyclists. Perhaps you are thinking of the Dutch equivalent of interstate highways – expressways with speed limits of 70 km/hr or higher. For an example, please see this video:

    I have also never encountered anyone in NL who believes they have a “cycling culture.” That’s like saying they have a “vacuum cleaner culture” because of the famous Dutch tidiness. A bicycle is just a tool, a transportation appliance.

    Posted 05 Oct 2014 at 5:29 pm
  13. Ian Cooper wrote:

    “I have never encountered a low-medium speed limit road in NL that did not accomodate cyclists.”

    I’ve never encountered a bear, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

    Posted 06 Oct 2014 at 2:33 am
  14. Kevin Love wrote:

    How much time have you spent in Northern forests?

    When I was in the Army, I traveled all over The Netherlands. I did not see any low-medium speed limit road in NL that failed to provide high-quality accommodation for cycle traffic. Nor have people like David Hembrow seen such a thing. If it exists, it must be very rare.

    When I was in the Army I also spend lots of time in Northern forests. And yes, I have seen my share of bears.

    Posted 06 Oct 2014 at 9:53 pm