A few years ago, my car was crashed into by another driver. The term used in the documentation and reports: an accident. The driver of the other car called it a mistake (in his case perhaps a mistake in judgment).
Being a wordsmith, I immediately saw the enormous difference between the terms accident and mistake. Quora defines them thus: “A mistake is something that happens due to your action, thoughts process or perception. [An] Accident happens when something goes wrong and you had no control over it or were careless.”
My thoughts turned to that distinction again recently upon learning about how yet another cyclist was murdered by the driver of a vehicle. It’s hard to know how many cyclists are killed in traffic accidents every day. We do know that number is near 1,000 each year in the United States. Compared to the rest of the world, we’re way up there.
So what we hear about most frequently is a cyclist who’s well known or even famous — as if that makes as difference; it’s still a human life. Recently, it was a sorta-famed drummer, Kevin Clark. Last week, it was Boryana Straubel, the wife of the rich-and-famous Tesla co-founder. Carson Now, the local online news source, reported:
“Preliminary investigation shows that a silver 2015 Ford Edge was traveling southbound on US-395A north of Washoe County mile marker 1. A bicyclist was traveling northbound on US-395A in the designated bike lane. The driver of the Ford failed to drive on the right side of the highway, crossed the double yellow line, entered the southbound travel lanes, and struck the bicyclist.”
But you know, bicycle murders are not about pubic recognition or social presence. They’re about killing or maiming an innocent human being who was only out riding their bike. In almost all cases, the drivers remain protected by the law and we never even know their names. They aren’t charged with anything, not even a misdemeanor. These drivers are intent on not having these incidents reported as their being at fault.
I’m advocating for the term crime.
Often the driver’s identity is withheld and we never learn if they were charged with any kind of malfeasance. I think that’s wrong. What it’s about for me is holding these drivers responsible for their actions, holding them up before the public to let other drivers know that killing a cyclist isn’t a crime they can get away with, scot free.
I’m sure some, and perhaps many, of these incidents are simply accidents. But where are we supposed to draw the line between an accident and a mistake? Does “Frenchy” in my forthcoming novel commit a crime or make a mistake? What about the person driving the Ford Edge who crossed all the way across two lanes of traffic before striking Boryana dead? What about the car filled with drunken college girls who ran down Kevin Clark at 1:30AM? In that case, the driver was given “several citations” for what we do not know, nor do we know who she is. At least Ryan Montoya has been charged with vehicular homicide for murdering Gwen Inglis.
But vehicular homicide is still a light sentence; it can be as short as 30 days! It depends on each state’s laws. Some cite 1-4 years, but rarely more. If the driver is drunk, or stoned, or both, the sentence can go to 15 years. That’s likely what Montoya is facing.
We need a few good object lessons.
P.S. My apologies for getting behind this week. Never in my wildest imagination could I have foreseen the melange of interruptions just because it was a four-day holiday. I’ll be posting a new Saturday Book Review on Saturday, Charlie Kaufman’s Antkind. Scrumptious. You don’t want to miss it.