Friday, May 15, 2009

It's all semantics, but..

"I always say to people: I don't care if you wear a raincoat or a Volkswagen
Golf, you're a human being, and I address you as a human being. I want you to
behave as a human being. I don't care what kind of vehicle you drive." - Hans Mondermann

From Ecovelo:

A recent article in the New York Times covered the closure of the Third Street
entrance to Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Apparently, some motorists are inching
around the barriers and driving through the park, ignoring the “Do Not Enter
Except Bikes” signs prominently displayed at the entrance. This is not so
surprising, and on its own wasn’t worthy of a blog post, but I couldn’t help but
notice the language used by Seth Solomonow, the city Department of
Transportation spokesman who was quoted for the article. He said, “The idea is
to reduce the spots where cars conflict with people

The concept is great, and I support closing roads to automobiles where it’s appropriate, but I’m sorry, cars don’t conflict with people; motorists conflict with other road users. Without a driver, a car doesn’t do anything. This kind of language, whether spoken subconsciously or purposefully, moves responsibility away from the vehicle operator and places it on an inanimate object (the car).

I agree. And while I know that I will accused of nit-picking, this kind of thing bugs me all of the time. Why do we speak of "accidents" when referring to collisions on the road? Most collisions are anything but accidental, they are almost all caused by driver inattentiveness, or distraction, etc. But we call them accidents, as if some act of fate beyond our control caused it. Our default position is that no-one is to blame. And it's made us callous. Everything is no-fault. We shirk our responsibility and allow others to do so as well.

From today's Salt Lake Tribune, in an article about two recent deaths, both killed in their front yards:

Cyrus McKell, of Holladay, had dug a hole and was preparing to place a sprinkler
at the entrance to a complex at 4000 South and 2300 East. A northbound car
crossed to the wrong side of the 2300 East, jumped a curb and continued along a
sidewalk into McKell...

Arrangements of memorial flowers sat in front of the now-crushed garden in Roy that Wendy Kerbs was planting when a sports utility vehicle rolled into her yard and killed her...

Richard Bash, 40, was driving his SUV as fast as 60 mph to pass another car near 3100 West and 5800 South on Wednesday, police said. The SUV flipped into Kerbs' yard about 4:45 p.m. It uprooted two large pine trees and struck Kerbs...

Look at that first paragraph. "A northbound car crossed to the wrong side..." No, that's not right. This reads as if the car did it on it's own. It's not the car, it's the driver of the car, an 86 year old mad who has yet to be identified. And while it seems that there may have been a medical condition involved that caused him to loose control of his vehicle, it most definitely wasn't the car's fault. Same with the second paragraph, " when a sports utility vehicle rolled into her yard and killed her..." Really? All by itself? No, a driver, while speeding excessively, crashed his SUV and rolled into her yard and killed her. The SUV didn't kill her, Richard Bash killed her with his SUV. (the third paragraph gets it right.)

I know that you're thinking that this is just picking at words, and you're right. I am. But words matter. And we as a society have become accustom to words that insulate and protect us from the consequences and realities of situations that we find uncomfortable. No one likes to point fingers and blame in these situations, after all, if it can happen to Mr. Bash, it could just as well be us. And that's my ultimate point. Words matter. But responsibility matters more. And our insulating ourselves from the true causes of these events allows us to go on thinking that it won't happen to us; allows us to not think about Mrs. Kerbs the next time we speed past someone who's annoying us by driving the speed limit in front of us; allows us to ignore the fact that we're the one's responsible. It's not the car. The car is a vehicle. A tool. And used incorrectly, it's a tool that can kill. And to paraphrase our "friends" over at NRA, cars don't kill people, people kill people. And perhaps it's time that we just come out and say it.

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