Don’t Call It an Accident

Even as desensitized as our culture has become to vehicular violence, the tragedy of February 22nd, 2015 is a tough one to stomach. That day, three children—ages 4,5, and 8—were run down while crossing a street in Springfield. They were crossing legally, in a crosswalk, with the signal. The driver of the car that killed them had a simple explanation: “I didn’t see any red light. What happened was an accident.” In declining to press charges, Lane County’s DA agreed that the driver “unwittingly ran a red light.” And on Monday, the Oregonian’s Editorial Board joined the exonerating cacophony with a piece entitled “When a tragic accident is just a tragic accident,” in which they declared that “‘accident’ is the only way to accurately describe what happened at that intersection on Feb. 22.”

No, it is not.

To be fair to the O, this sort of misuse of the word ‘accident’ dates all the way to the 15th Century: “As the medieval world had few scientific tools to investigate causation, it was not surprising that the word eventually associated itself with the phrase act of God.” A century ago, a young automobile industry in the process of inventing the concept of jaywalking co-opted it to blunt public perception of collisions, and over time the act of driving—and the act of crashing along with it—were normalized. Experts have been calling for a change in terminology since at least 1997, yet use of the word stubbornly persists in the media (just look at that article on jaywalking!).

Defenders of the term ‘accident’ often argue that the word applies for reasons of intent. Since nobody drives with an explicit desire to harm people or property, a word that denotes the opposite of ‘purposeful’ seems to fit the bill. But this ignores the fact that the very behaviors most likely to lead to crashes—driving drunk, distracted, or too fast for conditions, to name a few—are very much conscious decisions. Calling the end result of an ill-considered choice an ‘accident’  ignores the prologue, substituting a clear implication of blamelessness. It’s a biased, erroneous description.

Another sneakier limitation of the ‘a’ word is that, unlike ‘crash,’ the word ‘accident’ does not readily do double duty as a verb. You cannot accident into a tree. Thus a writer preferring the term ‘accident’ is tricked into using a passive voice, which often has the curious consequence of personifying a vehicle. In describing a different “accident” in which a woman “was struck and seriously injured by a car,” The O reports that, “the vehicle that hit her was moving west on Division, weaving in and out of traffic…It swerved toward Davis and struck her, then continued over a curb and through a grassy area before stopping.” The driver, though huffing laughing gas at the time, is relegated to the role of a mere accessory.

While I don’t believe that running a red light without even slowing can ever be unavoidable, the culpability in the Springfield crash is not on the driver alone. The generations-long approach to transportation and land use that has favored automobility over all other factors is a clear cause as well. This is what forced a family to cross a five-lane stroad so unironically called Main Street in the course of walking between their home and the ice cream parlor. Further, it rendered a 68-year-old man with apparent medical conditions dependant upon a car he could no longer safely drive. This, too, is no accident. It is a flawed approach to engineering and planning that we must hasten to abandon.

‘Accident’ is an inherently weak word; it is an excuse and a conversation ender rolled into one. When we declare something an accident, we throw up our hands and plead ignorance. We can neither understand it nor learn from it; it was unavoidable, unpreventable, and thus not worth fretting much over. Accidents happen, as they say.

What killed Tyler Hudson, McKenzie Hudson, and John Day on an Oregon street was no accident. It was an entirely unsurprising outcome of a century’s worth of systemic prioritization of cars over cities, of travel time over lives. Insofar as language shapes perception, describing their death using such an inaccurate, inarticulate word is perpetuating the very systems that make tragedies like it anything but accidents.

44 responses to “Don’t Call It an Accident”

  1. Very well written. This particular crash/fatality is very hard for anyone to stomach – and there are many such black and white ones every year.

  2. The generations-long approach to transportation and land use that has favored automobility over all other factors is a clear cause as well.

    I am not sure what the bottom line you are getting at is. Because of the dispersed access that most American small cities and towns are planned around, some people can have a home that is not a corporate product…. if they really want to. If urban residential construction becomes all multi-unit—-which many larger cities resort to—then one’s only choice would be to rent from or buy from a corporation. Don’t get me wrong. I would prefer to live high above the ground, have minimal chores and maintenance to do, and have the energy efficiency that multi unit structures provide. But it is becoming increasingly expensive to be an owner in that scenario. Last time I really looked into it, I could find some affordable high rise homes—-in Winnipeg, Manitoba. OTOH in San Diego or San Francisco or Seattle it is out of reach for lots of people, including myself. Probably what will happen in this region is that people or families tired of renting will move farther out to Hillsboro, or to Clark County to buy a home. Or if they are smart, build it on their own.

    So what do you propose—if in order to live in the city AND have enough room and therefore avoid extensive car use—as a choice to overcome the obstacles of paying higher and higher rents because the only choices are units that large corporate builders have put up?

    This, too, is no accident. It is a flawed approach to engineering and planning that we must hasten to abandon.

    And what are the ramifications? True, there are people moving into certain inner cities that have significantly higher income. But what do you propose for those who do not?

    • To your first point, the price and quality of housing is certainly an issue that Portland obviously has not handled terribly well as it’s grown. I’m certainly in that boat now too. As someone who wants to live car-free, I probably can’t move too far out from the central city and realistically hope to maintain that lifestyle. Of course, I’m nowhere close to being able to afford to buy a home in any of the neighborhoods that fit the bill, so I rent. And, yep, my landlord is a corporation. It’s an odd juxtaposition, really, because I try to spend as much of my budget as I can supporting small, local businesses, but the biggest chunk of change I spend each month goes straight to a California-owned corporation. I’m not sure how we get out of this death spiral, although I suspect part of the solution is inclusionary zoning. Changing the way we think about parking will make a decent-sized dent as well.

      But really–and this gets to your other point as well–there’s already a LOT of unmet demand for non-automotive trips. I don’t know the percentages off the top of my head, but all of those work and shopping trips of a few miles or less are ripe for conversion to an active mode…IF we had good networks to support them. Many longer trips are ripe for conversion to transit…IF we had the kind of coverage and frequency to make that a realistic option for folks. Unfortunately, right around the time that most engineers and planners realized it’s probably a bad idea to put ALL our eggs in the SOV basket, the funding picture became sharply more dire. (This is another thing that is probably not an accident).

      So to really address the systemic problems here will take as long or longer than the decades it took to get here. But certainly, there are things we can do immediately to make a difference, with one of them being to be more mindful of our language as a proxy for how we think about vehicular violence.

    • Ron,

      Will you stop about the market for house building? It’s off-topic to this thread. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt because you’re a good guy and stipulate that you surely do not like having pedestrians killed by autos. But what does housing have to do with that, other than that single-family homes tend to produce more driving and less walking?

      I will personally agree with you that it’s very nice to have a yard and a little room for a hobby garden. I feel blessed to do so. Because of that, I have to walk nearly a mile to the closest grocery store. I very nearly always do so when I need something except for very occasional trips when what is to be obtained will not fit in or is too heavy for the backpack.

      Now, yes, I’m retired and have the time to do it, and I like to walk. Unfortunately, since there are no sidewalks in Hazel Dell except on the major arterials, it would be over twice as far to walk to the Safeway using sidewalks all the way. And it would require walking on 78th and then Hazel Dell, both of which are high-speed car sewers. I’d probably be MORE threatened by a vehicle collision going that way than using the residential streets. So I cut through the neighborhood walking in the street.

      By so doing I’m breaking the law every step of the way, except the short distance along Ninth Avenue and when I cross it and Hazel Dell, because there are marked cross-walks on them.

      So that makes me fair game for some semi-senile narcissist in a huge pickup truck? That’s what this article is about; the Oregonian would say “Yes, it does; you should not be in the street.” They would essentially imprison me in my yard except when I drive away from it.

      The law has made machines more important than people. Yes, of course those machines exist to serve people, but by fetishizing them, we have become an isolated and divided society which is demonstrably falling apart largely because we no longer interact.

      • I don’t see what is wrong with working in a question of economics with someone who is educated in urban planning: I live in an urban area, and want to know what the plans are.

        Portland is supposed to be working towards equity, so I would like to know if their plans are going to be equitable towards me. And FWIW, I talked with a Portland Council member two nights ago at a public forum about how publicly owned rights of way could be better utilized to accomodate alternative transportation without further divvying up the presently used surfaces. This could mean significant gains in safety for people who aren’t using cars.

        • Whatever you can do to improve safety for people who aren’t using cars is certainly welcome to me. Lowering speed limits on arterials would help, but the truth is that most people ignore them and drive whatever speed the person in front of them is driving.

          Those who don’t — e.g. those who actually observe the limit — get flipped off or worse.

          • People will drive at a speed that they feel is comfortable. Speed limit, road design, and other contextual factors. I agree that lowering speed limits would do little without also changing the context of the road.

            In fact, the “…or worse” is potentially an increased likelihood of a crash. The conventional wisdom is that the more you deviate from the average speed of traffic–either by going more quickly or more slowly–the greater your risk of getting into a crash (Google ‘Soloman Curve’ for more). So a driver who might want to be prudent and law-abiding is put into a bit of a Catch-22.

            Of course, like everything else in traffic engineering this theory was developed in the 60’s and hasn’t seriously been questioned until recently. But DOT’s routinely cite this as a reason to keep posted speeds near the 85th percentile of travel speeds, right or wrong.

          • What I “could” do is challenge a fatalistic assumption by politicians that, in general, there will be no solution that isn’t expensive. …and will alienate some people, particularly those who are affected by tax increases.

            Just my two cents—-it doesn’t appear that many, if any, of our present officials, have much knowledge about construction practices:

            1. I have seen engineering fails. We pay good money for the opinions of experts and sometimes they don’t work out in practice. One very prevalent attitude of late, is that our infrastructure is seismically deficient and that if we just hire the best engineers and commit the funds, we will be safe. Not true.

            2. In the construction world, problem solving still counts. I.e. if there is money involved there is incentive to find a solution that controls costs. A contractor has to deal with practical economics or they go broke. They also have to deal with legal liability implications. I’m not accusing officials of unethical conduct, I am just saying that the real world criteria of what succeeds over time, can be a lot different than what the politician wrestles with as far as citizen opinion.

            3. We should have breakthroughs. We have had them in the past and civilization has moved ahead. The breakthroughs we need most are ones that produce the best cost benefit over time.

            4. Organization is more critical than technology. A “technological” breakthrough is not helpful if it turns out to be costly or contributes to disorganization. I think we as a culture have gotten past unreasonable tech fascination after the “New Economy” of the 1990’s didn’t really turn out the way expected.

        • It’s a little outside the realm of the language/safety conversation, but I agree that it’s germane to discuss topics like housing costs here. After all, one of the things that I’m arguing are a significant contributor to crashes are the auto-centric land use patterns of the last century or so.

          Densifying, particularly in close-in neighborhoods, appears to be part and parcel of reversing these land use patterns, but that seems to lead to gentrification everywhere it’s tried. Can we have densification without gentrification? Inclusionary zoning, assuming it makes it through the legislature, seems to give us a tool to overcome this, but is it enough? And even if it is, what are the other unintended consequences of densification? In Portland in particular, there are many concerns about protecting the character of our neighborhoods as we grow into a legit metropolis. Is this even possible? Can we still be the sort of place where people keep chickens and kale gardens in their backyards with all the new people we’re expecting to be moving here?

          These are all excellent questions, and things transportation engineers and planners need to consider as we go about our work. Indeed, part of the reason we have so many crashes today is that historically these sorts of things were not considered.

          • A big part of the issue is that builders want to make money–hence they will only build cheap housing on cheap real estate. Land prices are driven by several factors–the attractiveness of a locale, and what is legally permitted with the land. A lot that may be used to build an apartment tower is more expensive than the same lot zoned only for a single-family house. But multi-family housing (other than low-cost apartments on cheap land) is only a lucrative proposition in areas of high demand.

            Ron’s oft-proposed solution, and the proposal of many others–is to stop upzoning, which will somewhat “solve” the what-is-permitted half of what drives land prices. But if an area is still attractive, land will still be expensive, and DIY homeowners will still have a hard time buying a lot on which to build. Some people would like Portland to return to the 1970s, when it was a sleepy-and-charmingly-weird backwater, not a major cultural trendsetter, but absent a massive collapse of the local economy, I doubt that will happen.

  3. This is a very strange form of prescriptivism. You may not like the connotations of the word and choose to use a different word, but the use of the word “accident” frequently refers to a negligent action in the absence of deliberate intent.

    “I accidentally cut my finger cutting onions.” It is not wrong to characterize this as an accident regardless of whether the person was drinking a glass of wine or holding a conversation while cutting.

    “I got so drunk last night I accidentally fell asleep on the couch.”

    “Tommy had an accident and broke his arm. He was climbing that tree out back and lost his footing.”

    • Well, I don’t know that ‘accident’ is ever really a terrifically descriptive word for all the reasons I detail in the original post, but it’s certainly palatable to use to describe things like your first two examples. Tommy may want to rethink his approach and invest in some better footwear before he tries climbing that tree again, but if you’re talking about something that truly is a minor oversight with accordingly minor consequences, sure…use the ‘a’ word. When people are getting seriously injured or dying, though, I think it’s important to reflect that severity with our word choice.

      One of the papers I linked speaks to these severity/terminology considerations in some detail; the whole of the paper can be accessed via the “Look Inside” feature on the top right of the page:

      • Thanks for the link, but the “Look Inside” button only led me to a PNG of the first page. Maybe a mobile thing? I’ll try again at work.

        Without being able to read the paper, I don’t get the gist of the argument. Are you saying that accidents are minor things and can’t be severe? I Googled “tragic accident,” and the hits included deaths from military exercises, construction, workplace accidents, etc. Accidents can be consequential.

        • And, it goes without saying, accidents can be prevented, or at least minimized. Hence the banner in the mail room at work, XXXX days since the last workplace accident. Hence anytime a relative or acquaintance gets into a car accident, the second question after extent of damage is who was at fault.

          • But in many places, corporate safety culture discourages the word “accident” for the same reasons that Brian gives here–it tends to imply that bad things Just Happen, without causes that can be controlled. That doesn’t mean that any on-the-job injury must lead to someone getting fired (or worse)–in some cases the proper response is better training, or improved ergonomics, or safer tools.

            But responsible corporate safety culture often takes a “zero-tolerance” approach to such incidents–that all of these and and should be prevented, and that they don’t “just happen” or are part of the cost of doing business.

            But that’s frequently how roadway collisions are viewed–that they are inevitable events, and the price we must pay for a car-based transportation network.

            • To follow up, though–why are many corporations now taking safety seriously? In many cases, it is either because

              a) the government is forcing them too, or
              b) they risk getting sued otherwise.

              What if each taxpayer (or each motorist) had a surcharge added to their property tax bill, or auto registration fee–to compensate victims of motor vehicle collisions for the public share of the damages suffered? In other words, in adjudicating damage awards to victims, responsibility was divided between the persons involved, and the state/citizenry, with unsafe road conditions mandating a state share, and a compensation fund used to pay out these damage awards?

              (Or what if civil engineers could suffer professional consequences, including the potential loss of their license, if poor design was a major contributing cause to a collision?)

              I suspect that if motorists had to pay into that, they might rather pay for safety improvements instead.

              Of course, the state and its voters instead invoke the doctrine of sovereign immunity, and insulate taxpayers and engineers from the consequences.

            • I view a certain number of roadway collisions as inevitable, and the price we must pay for a car-based transportation network, but only as a shortcut from an already-established train of thought that is too cumbersome to bring up over and over again.

              Of course, improved safety technology and better engineering practices can reduce and sometimes eliminate serious accidents. Separated infrastructure, adequate lighting, and radar technology in cars, are all examples of this. But all of this comes with a price tag, in money or freedom. We should go ahead and pick all the low-hanging fruit, but at some point the marginal safety gains for a particular engineering solution will be outweighed by the prohibitive cost or inconvenience to the road user.

              I say “freedom” as well, because one way to make roads safer is to ban vehicles that don’t have active and passive safety technology. This could mean required helmets for cyclists, which I oppose, or banning bicycles altogether, which I seriously oppose.

              I am conflicted with “Vision Zero” for this reason. Intellectually, it’s garbage, but it’s more about a mindset, and the mindset is ok. That mindset is that the current levels of traffic deaths are unacceptable and that we can and should always strive to make the system safer.

              Intellectually, it’s garbage because there is tremendous utility in settling for a system that is not 100% safe. Every speed limit sign in the country could be viewed as an attempt to find the equilibrium between utility and safety. If we wanted zero vehicle-related deaths, utility-be-damned, we’d ban both cars and bicycles.

              If we backed off a little bit, we would demand separate infrastructure for cars, bikes, and pedestrians, with all crossings handled by overpasses.

              Politicians who say “there is no acceptable level of traffic deaths” are disingenuous or foolish. If they really believed that, they should go ahead and push for 5mph speed limits.

              So, given that we are looking to maximize utility vs. safety, a certain number of roadway collisions are inevitable and the price we must pay, etc. etc.

            • Scotty, I think there are two trends pushing corporate awareness of safety.

              One is medical cost inflation. This has a big impact on Workers Comp costs, which tends to be the driver in corporate risk management. 20 years ago medical was around a third of total cost, or half the cost of lost wages depending on how you look at it. Nowadays medical costs typically exceed lost wages. That’s strong incentive for loss control.

              The second trend is the information technology, and the awareness and choices it creates. It’s easy now for even midsized companies to take risk, whether it be through deductibles, captives or whatever. And I think there’s a growing awareness of adverse selection and a desire not to be the “stuckee”: no one wants to be the one paying off an insurer through relatively high premiums in order to offset other companies with poor safety.

              The concepts I’d take from that with respect to auto are
              1) Significant cost- something you notice.
              2) Variable cost- something you can directly influence through your own actions.

              I think your solution of a public “street liability” might allow better compensation to injured parties by creating a new payor, but I don’t think it would improve safety. There’s nothing tying payments to improvements, it would look and act like just another tax. And while it might motivate political demand for improvements, it would also reduce incentives for good road behavior. Driver costs would decrease to the extent liability was transferred to municipalities.

              I think what we need is to increase insurance costs so that people notice them, and give them more room to vary rewarding good drivers and punishing bad ones. I think they key thing for making that happen is increasing the mandatory liability limit. At $25,000 that’s a joke, for a bad accident that wouldn’t cover the first day’s medical. I don’t know the history of Oregon’s mandatory limits, but I suspect if you laid them out and then adjusted for inflation (including medical) you’d get an interesting chart.

              Increasing mandatory limits to say $100,000 would offer victims fairer compensation and put more pressure on drivers to think through what they’re doing.

            • I think the liability issue that you bring up–particularly the structure of how liability works–is a big part of the reason change is so excruciatingly slow here.

              For traffic engineers, certainly there is professional liability at stake, but that primarily comes from deviating from accepted standards like those described in the MUTCD or the AASHTO guide. Of course, those accepted standards have led to a system where 33,000 people are killed annually and many more are seriously injured (but, hey, at least those numbers are dropping presently).

              If I were implement a design that deviates too greatly from these standards, that would open me up to tremendous liability _even if my design were safer than something more widely accepted._ That’s problematic. It vastly reduces the opportunities for creative solutions, and ensures that anything new will have to go through a years-long, expensive process of slowly working its way into the universe of accepted treatments.

      • Having now read the full article, I don’t see where they introduce the concept of severity into the definition or normative use of the word “accident.”

        Their argument is much the same as yours. “Accident” implies something unforeseeable, for which no one is to blame and nothing can be done.

        Depending on the application, I don’t think that implication is very strong. We use “accident” for all kinds of things unrelated to motor vehicles that could have been prevented by being more careful, or operating in a safer environment. See the above and below examples.

        I think the point you’re making is, that one could quibble with the use of the word “accident” in the abovementioned examples, but its alleged misuse is unimportant because the stakes are low.

        I disagree. Regardless of the stakes, I think the word was properly applied to those examples, along with the following:

        “Gina went against doctor’s orders and continued to take showers without installing a guard rail. It’s little wonder then that she had her accident and broke her neck.”

        “The baby was an accident.”

        “Pathologists determined that the overdose was accidental.”

        • I think you’re illustrating my exact point with all of the different ways that ‘accident’ is used colloquially, all of which I suspect fit with how any dictionary might define the word. It’s an odd quirk of language (an accident, perhaps?) that the same word that has means inevitable, without intent, not purposeful, etc., also has come to mean a sort of incident where life or limb might be lost.

          If you were to say:

          “The child broke the lamp while playing, but it wasn’t on purpose; it was an accident.”

          and also say:

          “The driver was high on laughing gas at the time of the accident.”

          You just used the same word to describe two very different things in terms of both severity and how the behavior that led to the ‘accident’ aligns with what we might reasonably expect. And since language is powerful at shaping perceptions, I think having one word that covers both of these extremes causes people to conflate them.

          • I think we’re converging on some kind of agreement, or at least narrowing down the ways we disagree. Let me count the ways (and it should go without saying, we don’t need to agree :)).

            1) While we agree that words shape perceptions, and that word choice is therefore political, that should be your guide for how you choose your own words, or if you are of an activist bent, how you advocate for an agency to choose its words. The Oregonian was making it’s own ideological point, not yours, and chose a word that suited their purposes, in a way that lined up exactly with how the word was commonly used. They did not “misuse” the word.

            2) “Accident” doesn’t imply blamelessness in the context of vehicular collisions. Or really, in almost all contexts. A blizzard may be an unfortunate circumstance, but rarely if ever referred to as an accident (though it may “precipitate” accidents) even if someone gets snowed in and dies of a burst appendix . Usually, an accident refers to something involving human agency, implying some degree of culpability falling short of deliberate intention or recklessness. Like every single one the examples I provided. The only context I can think of where “accident” doesn’t imply culpability is where it is used as a synonym for “coincidence.” Such as, “a happy accident of fate brought them together.”

            3) Like “accident,” “collision” encompasses a wide variety of events, from touching bumpers while parallel parking, to tanker trucks colliding with busloads of orphans. That doesn’t mean we can’t use the word “collision.”

            4) Just because words are susceptible to more than one meaning doesn’t mean they need to be scrapped. People are very good at deriving meaning from context. Maybe I’m projecting, but I don’t think we as a society have any particular inhibitions on assigning culpability to people in vehicular collisions.

            5) When the O was saying “an accident is just an accident,” they were discussing the DA’s decision not to press criminal charges on the driver. So here, the “traditional” definition of accident as “negligence without intent,” is apt, because that’s exactly what it was. Crimes generally require deliberate intent or in some cases recklessness. Things get a little muddy with a crime like “criminal negligence,” but as a matter of public policy courts still place a high bar for the frame of mind required to meet that standard.

            6) All this means is that the guy isn’t going to go to jail. That’s fine by me. What good does he do to the victims or anybody for sitting in jail on the taxpayer’s dime? He can still be sued in civil court, and be ordered to pay damages. In civil court, intent matters much less; “it was an accident” is no excuse.

  4. This is a very thoughful article.
    More safety is necessary for pedestrians throughout our country. Transmitters should be installed at intersections that send a signal to a receiver built into cars that when approaching a red signal at a speed over 20mph to automatically stop the vehicle before entering the intersection. Also maybe able to receive signals from cellphones to detect when a pedestrian may be near or within a crosswalk. This safety system could probably be installed in most cars with a computer built-in.

    • The autosexuals will rise up like the ammosexuals and “punish” any politician who suggests it.

    • I think it would be easy to use examples of distracted drivers; even drivers who have fallen asleep behind the wheel to potentially get legislation for this type of preventative technology. This is because the simple modifications wouldn’t take full control away but would slow the vehicle to under 20mph to lessen the severity of a collision. I do not think the cost to car owners would be very high to have recievers installed, roughly $100. Insurance reductions could be given for cars with the technology installed, making up for some of the installation cost. The transmitters for the signals could be installed at intersections over time, priority being given to the most dangerous intersections first, somewhat reducing immediate installation costs.

      • I think your cost of $100 per car is going to come out a bit low. That would at most cover the labor cost of getting a system installed.

        I’ve never owned a car that you could easily install a system that uses the car’s computer to control the brakes. I don’t doubt that’s possible in some cars, but in all the ones I’ve owned or worked on in my life there wasn’t an interface that would allow the car’s electronic system to control the master cylinder.

        Keeping in mind that poorer people are more likely to have older cars that would require much more extensive work to meet that specification, how are they supposed to pay for it? For lots of people an unexpected expense of $100 can cause a bit of a hardship. People who are driving a car that’s only worth a few hundred dollars should suddenly come up with a significant percentage of that car’s value to install a remote controlled braking system?

        In addition there could be liability issues. If the roads are icy and the car automatically brakes causing it to slide out of its lane and it injures a person or damages property who is liable? Since the driver didn’t have control over his vehicle because the city/county/state caused the brakes to engage why should he be held liable? Shouldn’t the agency who caused the car to behave the way it did be at fault?

        What if someone hacks the radio controlled braking system and uses it to cause chaos on a freeway? Who pays to develop a solution that’s secure enough to put peoples lives on the line and insure it in the cases where it causes more problems than it solves?

        As cars get smarter issues like that will be sorted out, but it’s not something that can be enacted overnight. Technology will progress, and it could be helped along by requiring solutions like that in new cars. Maybe there’s a form of tax credits or subsidies for auto insurance if a driver chooses to have it installed in an older car. For self-driving cars it seems like a no brainer to build in smart roadway compatibility as well.

        Unfortunately it will take a bit of time.

        • True but if nobody starts to pay for these things, nothing will ever change. Even $500 is cheaper then being involved in a significant auto accident. Installing collision prevention or warning technology in cars would actually save the poor more than being sued for negligence.
          The computer on my 1991 Chevy Lumina could control the engine, even could shit it off; not sure about the brakes but wouldn’t seem difficult to link together.
          Basically the system would when the light turns red, a magnet in the ground turns on. When a car with a magnetic receiver passes over the active magnet in the ground at over 25 mph, a warning sound or a braking system could be used to lessen the severity of a collision, not necessarily preventing one.

          • Magnets are already used in the road to detect if cars are approaching/waiting at a red light as well as speed detection on freeways. Without replacing all of those you’d have cars randomly slamming on their brakes all across the USA.

            You’d need a much more secure system than that if you’re going to start triggering the brakes in cars with no warning to the driver or you’d end up causing collisions.

            Solutions are already being built into cars, but changes aren’t going to happen overnight. Cars get safer every year, but a collision avoidance system that can be reasonably retrofitted into older cars isn’t something that’s anywhere near the $500 or even $5000 price range yet.

  5. I agree that “accident” is a poor word choice, and one of the TriMet safety recommendations that came up after the bus crash, etc was for the agency to stop using the term because of the connotation of being unpreventable. From page 7 of :

    “TriMet should eliminate the term “accident” from its vocabulary to the extent practicable, and instead use words that are descriptive of the event in order to highlight the predictable and preventable nature of most collisions and injuries.”

    Also see

  6. Speaking of poor word choices in local media, check out this story as it appears this evening on KOIN (emphasis mine):

    Police searching for pedestrian who caused crash

    By KOIN 6 News Staff

    A crash on Hwy 30 near Sauvie Island Bridge caused serious injuries to a woman

    PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland Police are searching for a man who crossed Hwy 30 near mile point 10.8 at an unmarked crosswalk and caused a car crash.

    The crash occurred east of the Sauvie Island Bridge on Friday morning when a 56-year-old driver slowed to a stop when he saw the pedestrian. The driver of the car behind him then rear-ended the slowed car and the driver, 58-year-old Loretta J. Sampson, suffered serious injuries and was taken to Legacy Emmanuel Hospital.

    The 56-year-old driver of the first car, Kirk L. Hubbard, was not injured.

    The man who crossed the road was picked up by another car and left the scene.

    Police are looking to identify the jaywalker, who is described as a white male around 50 or 60 years old. He is approximately 160 lbs with gray balding hair and gray unshaven facial hair. He was wearing a dark blue jacket, blue cargo shorts, dark blue tennis shoes and was carrying a small brief case.

    There are so many things wrong in this article, that display a total misunderstanding on the part of the writer of how our or traffic laws work, or of what actually happened at the scene, or both.

    An “unmarked crosswalk” is a crosswalk nonetheless, no?

    Can you be “jaywalking” in a crosswalk?

    The first driver slowed to allow the pedestrian to cross. Is this not correct behavior, whether or not someone is “jaywalking”?

    The second driver rear-ended the first. Was the 2nd driver following too close? Isn’t a rear-end collision, in the eyes of the law, usually the fault of the car to the rear?

    To top it off, they illustrate the post with a file photo of a walk signal and the caption “An electronic intersection “walk” sign, signaling that it’s OK for pedestrians to cross the street.”, as if that had anything to do with the actual location, especially if it was an “unmarked crosswalk”. Sheesh.

    At least the writer didn’t use the word “accident”.

    Anybody know what actually happened?

    • Clearly, the only way to avoid this tragic accident would have been for the first driver to accelerate into the pedestrian. Thanks, KOIN.

    • The Oregonian has taken deep, gluttonous swills of the Autoista propaganda that any human foot on any roadway is trespassing. Not just “jaywalking” but outright trespassing.

  7. Thanks for this article.

    The LAW is that the driver is supposed to be in control of their car at all times, and is responsible for their actions — barring mechanical failure, a sudden stroke, or something like that.

    The police, however, all too often refuse to enforce the law, blame the victims, and then send out libellous press releases to the media.

    I’m not sure how to fix this.

    • True for civil actions, but not true for criminal prosecution. For a crime to have occurred, under current law, some act beyond “mere” inattention or carelessness must be present.

      Not saying this is correct or good, but it is how the law is currently structured.

  8. Here’s another one from KOIN for your consideration:

    Cyclist breaks leg in SE car collision

    A male cyclist collided with a car at SE 26th and Powell

    By KOIN 6 News Staff

    PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A cyclist broke his leg on Friday morning after colliding with a car.

    The accident happened at SE 26th and Powell, the same intersection where cyclist Alistair Corkett lost part of his leg earlier this month.

    Officials say that around 11:12 a.m., a Jeep Cherokee struck the bicycle rider. The driver remained at the scene.

    The intersection is closed while officials investigate.

    Over the past 10 years there have been 73 crashes at this Southeast Portland intersection.

    KOIN 6 will be following the story.

    This one starts off with the more neutral “collision” but then drifts into casual use of the word “accident”.

    An earlier, shorter version of this story said (From my RSS-reader cache):

    No information on the cause of the accident or the cyclist’s identity have been released.

    It is interesting how two different meanings of “accident” collide so frequently in these stories. (In this case, “accident” having a connotation of something that just happens or can’t be helped/predicted, and “accident” having a “cause” which would imply something which is predictable or preventable.)

    On the other hand, a lot of “causes” of death are not predictable or preventable nor are they accidents (certain diseases) – we don’t refer to death due to rare forms of cancer as “accidental” but they do have a “cause”. Language is so complicated, sometimes and always.

    • Also interesting that a “cyclist” (person) collided with a “car” (vehicle), as opposed to some combination involving a “motorist” (person) or a “bicycle” (vehicle).

    • Bob,

      Which is it? Did the bicycle strike the car, or did the car strike the bicycle? The first paragraph of the story says “A cyclist broke his leg on Friday morning after colliding with a car.” which implies the first. The third para says “Officials say that around 11:12 a.m., a Jeep Cherokee struck the bicycle rider. The driver remained at the scene.” implying the second.

      Which actually happened? If the second scenario is the real one, wouldn’t it have been more proper to say “Cyclist suffers broken leg when struck by Jeep”? Regardless of who might have been at fault, THAT is what happened in the second scenario. It’s not like the guy was jumping from a fourteen foot wall and snapped his thigh bone (e.g. “A cyclist broke his leg on Friday”).

      Anyway, “after colliding with a car” is complete nonsense. The bone broke AFTER the collision? Perhaps the guy DID jump off the fourteen foot wall to get away from the Jeep?!?!

      Do these people read what they write?

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