A Pedestrian Death In Greater Rochester Highlights The Worst Of Car Culture

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Let me begin by saying this is a tragic event, and first and foremost, my heart goes out to the family and friends of the victim in this tragic death just a few minutes from my home. We do not know all the details, but the ones we do know are clear, and the actions not taken against the driver at fault are disturbing.

I finished the article and couldn’t believe it. I was stunned as I read the last sentence, a sort of dagger into the heart of everything we stand for with regard to pedestrian safety and the need for drivers to understand their responsibility in piloting a potentially deadly weapon. A 92 year-old man was struck by a pickup truck and pinned underneath in broad daylight at 3:35pm while on the sidewalk in the town of Pittsford, New York. The man was crossing the entrance/exit to a gas station when the driver of the pickup (which was unregistered) ran him over despite the fact that the elderly man was on the sidewalk. The pedestrian was pronounced dead a few hours later.

The driver was given tickets for a “suspended registration, unregistered motor vehicle and failure to yield the right of way for a pedestrian.” A spokesperson for the Monroe County Sheriff’s office said that “additional charges are not expected.”

Let’s take a moment to break this down. We have a pedestrian on a sidewalk that, by law, has the right of way. We have a person piloting an unregistered vehicle. So right off the bat we have a victim who is 100% in their right, and a driver who was piloting a 2500+ pound vehicle that should not have been on the road.

But today, the man on the sidewalk is dead, and the man who shouldn’t even have been driving the vehicle he was in?  He has a few outstanding tickets.

I understand accidents. But this is the most horrific example of negligence and recklessness.  This is everything we Urbanists talk about when we speak about car culture… prioritized, subsidized, glorified and excused. I am not against the American automobile, I am against the senselessness of injury and death at the hands of those who neglect their destructive potential. I am against events like this one where the driver kills someone with a vehicle and faces no significant repercussion. It is a virtual green light for drivers to do as they please, to continue to treat their vehicles like pleasure machines instead of extraordinary burdens of responsibility for the potential harm they may cause.

The same evening this terrible incident took place, I turned on the TV to yet another New York State “See And Be Seen” pedestrian safety commercial, once again depicting pedestrians as lazy, mindless and distracted.

Yet the reality is that drivers break the law constantly (speeding, rolling through stop signs, pulling into crosswalks, not looking both ways, etc).  The difference is, of course, the negligent, distracted driver can become a weapon in seconds, as was the case in the fatal incident mentioned above.  I don’t see any videos telling drivers how to look out for pedestrians, but I see countless New York State commercials telling pedestrians how to protect themselves from mindless drivers with tips like “wear bright clothing.”

The message we are sending is clear. Do whatever you want on the road… drive an illegal vehicle, kill a pedestrian on the sidewalk, and it’s ok. We will just call it an accident, slap you on the wrist and move on.

Cars are vehicles to a life of freedom and the ability to go where we want.  But they are also enormous and powerful machines of potential destruction, injury and often death. To see them otherwise is, frankly, irresponsible. In a world where two-ton vehicles cross paths with vulnerable people, every driver must see the truth… that they hold a loaded gun every time they get behind the wheel. If you think this is extreme, look at the data… drivers of cars kill about the same number of people as shooters do.

We cannot continue this way.  When we talk about safer, more prosperous communities, we must put driver education and accountability for driver actions first.  We must fully begin to realize the enormous responsibility we have when we are behind the wheel, not only to protect ourselves, but to ensure that those around us are safe and comfortable as well.  We must embrace initiatives that aim to minimize speed and maximize pedestrian safety, or face what will surely be the continued road of deadly consequences.  It is upon all of us to realize that the country was not made for cars, it was made for people, and we must understand our role in preserving life every time we get behind the wheel.