Accident of Mistake? Closely Watched Crimes
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.
July 6, 2021 @ 8:55 pm
Whatever we call this, I think accident is a more accurate term than murder. Stats on on bicycle fatalities are not that hard to find. It appears that bicycle fatalities are on an upward trajectory and closing in on a thousand per year:
Things like helmets and alcohol are big factors, but you are right. Most encounters between bikes and cars are the result of careless or reckless (not murderous) drivers.
Where I live, in a far flung suburb of LA, police reports on traffic accidents usually do ascertain blame. Just because there aren’t charges doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences. There are a lot of cycling fatalities in LA County and a ton of attorneys out here specializing in cycling lawsuits. Kill a cyclist and you are going to face a huge lawsuit and it will probably cost you even if you weren’t at fault.
I commuted from my home to LA for a quarter century – 45+ miles each way. I often took Pacific Coast Highway along the ocean through Malibu and Santa Monica. It’s a pleasant drive, nice ocean views, a curvy road, two lanes each way and a 45 mph speed limit. But motorists frequently travel 50 even 60. There are either very narrow bike lanes, or none at all and lots of vehicles belonging to swimmers/surfers etc parked over them. I almost never traveled that road without encountering recreational cyclists. I never understood the attraction of cycling on a dangerous road during rush hour. Especially when for about half of the road, there is a parallel, paved bike/pedestrian path on the beach. But many cyclists seem to prefer the road. I know folks on bikes are every bit as entitled to use the road as the rest of us, but it must have been incredibly stressful. Cyclists were, and still are, often killed on that road.
The mountain roads around where I live are full of recreational cyclists on the weekends, as well as motorcycles and high-performance sports cars. Everyone’s out having fun. Most recent additions are people on electric bikes, many of them seniors who can’t ride very well and wouldn’t be out there without the e-boost. And of course, there are a lot of bars catering to them. Over the years, several of my casual acquaintances, mostly folks from my masters swim team who also do triathlons have had serious bicycle accidents. But no one I know has died. However, one person on my swim team drowned (heart attack) at a workout.
Bicycle fatalities are only going to go up.
July 10, 2021 @ 7:03 pm
My point, Bob, is simply that the consequences aren’t there. For the driver, it’s “OOPS!” For the cyclist, it all too often a casket. ~ Jack
July 6, 2021 @ 11:25 pm
A mistake is always a value judgment rendered after the fact.