Drivers Have a Different Set of Values

2013 May 22
by Ando Arike

The comedian Louis CK vamps on a theme all-too-familiar to pedestrians and bicyclists: the ethical gulf between drivers and those without the two tons of armor: “It’s amazing how nasty we can get as people… If you put people in certain contexts, they just change. Like when I’m in my car I have a different set of values — I am the worst person I can be when I’m behind the wheel, which is when I’m at my most dangerous. When you’re driving that’s when you need to be most compassionate and responsible of any time in your life, because you are f-king  driving a weapon amongst weapons — and yet it’s the worst people get…”

Obviously, this “different set of values” — aggressiveness, selfishness, vindictiveness (to name a few) — are not the type of values one would want to cultivate in a densely populated metropolis, and yet this is precisely what American AutoCulture does. Which leads me to believe that, perhaps, we are not quite honest with ourselves about just what our values are — maybe we are a much more bloodthirsty, petty, evil-minded culture than we like to believe.

Another possibility is that this technology — the automobile — has its own set of imperatives, and that the American “love affair” with the auto has entailed a sort of “cyborg” fusion wherein drivers involuntarily adopt the behaviors the technology calls for. For instance, cars “want” to go fast — they  “want” to accelerate to the limits of their capabilities. Anything less feels constrained, inhibited, repressive.  Unfortunately, the average car is capable of speeds that are utterly impossible on streets shared with pedestrian and bicycle traffic, and so in such situations the driver is in a continuous state of frustration and barely restrained anger — exhibited as rage and annoyance at the things that impede his or her speed. And all-too-often this “road rage” will lead drivers to risk-taking and carelessness — or simply blithe disregard — for those on foot or riding bikes.

Like the contradictions of economic class, this contradiction between fossil-fueled cyborgs and pedestrian/cyclists is one that American society cannot “solve” without severely limiting the “rights” of those with the upper hand — drivers: banning cars from cities, restricting speed and horsepower, imposing stringent licensing requirements, enhancing law enforcement, etc. But the automobile is a sacred cow in the U.S. — utterly enmeshed in our economy and lifestyle — and so pedestrians and cyclists will continue to be assaulted and killed with impunity, as in the story below:

No Charges Filed as Six Are Killed by NYC Drivers in Seven Days

by Brad Aaron

A Brooklyn woman who was struck by a truck driver in Red Hook Wednesday was the latest victim among six city pedestrian and cyclist fatalities in the last week.

Lillian Cruz, hit by the driver of a tractor-trailer in Red Hook Wednesday, was at least the fifth pedestrian killed by a city motorist since Ray Kelly announced changes to the NYPD crash investigation squad. 

At approximately 6:40 a.m. yesterday, Lillian Cruz, 60, was crossing Hamilton Avenue at Court Street when the signal changed and the driver of a tractor-trailer, westbound on Hamilton and stopped at the light, accelerated and ran her over, according to NYPD.

Cruz, of Bushwick, died at the scene. The driver was summonsed for failure to exercise due care.

Cruz was at least the second pedestrian killed by a semi truck driver in the last two weeks, following the February 28 death of 6-year-old Amar Diarrassouba. Tractor-trailer drivers have killed at least three other pedestrians on city streets since last August, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog. The victims include Ignacio Cubano, Ken Baker, and Jessica Dworkin.

Many of the trucks involved in these fatal collisions are too long to be operated on surface streets without a permit. Despite recent deaths, the presence of trucks in areas that should normally be off-limits has not been a focus of NYPD or the media.

The type of collision that killed Cruz is supposed to be prevented by crossover mirrors, which allow drivers of large trucks to see directly in front of them. It is not known whether the truck was equipped with the mirrors. Trucks registered outside New York are exempt from the mirror requirement.

Monday evening at around 8 p.m., 75-year-old Roberto Baez was struck by the driver of a Nissan in the Bronx. Baez was crossing Soundview Avenue mid-block near Taylor Avenue when he was killed, a police spokesperson said. No summonses were issued.

Monday morning, 16-year-old Tenzin Drudak was among several people hit by a curb-jumping motorist near LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City. Drudak was killed and four others were injured. NYPD told the media the driver was speeding and reaching for a carton of milk when the crash occurred. Nevertheless, no charges were filed.

Andrew Quinn, 22, was struck by and hit-and-run driver on Twelfth Avenue at W. 23rd Street early Saturday morning.

Two drivers hit and killed 49-year-old cyclist Victor Lopez in Borough Park before dawn on Friday, March 8. Both drivers remained at the scene, and “no criminality” was suspected.

Last Thursday evening, an unidentified 55-year-old woman was run over by the driver of a QM3 bus in Oakland Gardens in Queens. “A police investigation has determined that there was no criminality,” said the Daily News.

Last week, Commissioner Ray Kelly informed the City Council that NYPD would increase the number of investigators assigned to serious traffic crashes. Unknown is whether more investigations will translate to more penalties for reckless drivers and, therefore, safer streets for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. Judging by what we’ve seen since Kelly made his announcement, the department has yet to make a substantive change in how it approaches traffic deaths and injuries.

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