Monday, August 3, 2009

Crashes Are Not Accidents

The Ghost Bikes movement endeavors to remind us that crashes are not accidents. Accidents are by definition unintentional, and we think of them as being unpredictable and thus unavoidable. As Tom Vanderbilt points out in his book (which I'm currently reading), "Traffic: Why we drive the way we do (and what it says about us)," do accidents really just happen, or are there steps we can take to avoid them, or at least minimize their likelihood? If so, this suggests that accidents are neither wholly unpredictable nor unavoidable.

Having just moved to Chicago (and with a budding interest in transportation planning), I'm fascinated by traffic here. As a cyclist, I find it intriguing that automobile commuters are willing to sit so long in rush-hour traffic.

In Chicago, as in most places, there is a bias against bicycles as legitimate means of transportation. Chicago is far better than I anticipated, but these two articles from today's news hint at an institutionalized bias:

Bicyclist Hurt in Hit-and-Run Accident

Police are looking for the driver and vehicle involved in a hit-and-run crash which severely injured a west suburban man as he rode a bicycle Sunday night.

Officers found that the 52-year-old man had been on a bicycle when he suffered serious injuries to his legs and head after being struck by a car, according to a release from police.

Traffic investigators responded to the scene and recovered some evidence, but as of noon Monday, the car and driver had not been identified. Anyone who witnessed the accident or has information that will assist in locating the offender, is asked to call police at (630) 801-6610 or Aurora Area Crime Stoppers at (630) 892-1000.

Father, son hurt in Brown County park bike crash

NASHVILLE, Ind. - Authorities say a 15-year-old boy and his father suffered extensive injuries when they crashed down a steep hill while bicycling at Brown County State Park.

Forty-four-year-old Edward Brizendine and his son Ely were taken by helicopter to Methodist Hospital after the accident Sunday afternoon.

State conservation officers say the two were at the park near Nashville with several other members of the Mooresville High School cross county team as part of a weekend training outing.

Conservation Officer Jeff Atwood says the hill where the two crashed is marked with signs urging bike riders to dismount before going down.

The headlines suggest that the driver who struck a cyclist, resulting in serious injuries and hospitalization, and who then fled the scene, had an accident.

The cyclists in the second story apparently failed to heed the posted warnings of a steep and dangerous slope. They, too, were hospitalized as a result of their crash.

Accidents and crashes may both be employed to refer to the same incident, but they carry presumptions of culpability and evitability.

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