That’s what the sticker on my office door says and I agree. I see and hear the word used every day: accident. We all tend to say it when we really mean “crash.” A fatality caused by a drunk or distracted driver or a cyclist riding on the wrong side of the road is avoidable. We need to call it what it is, a crash– not an accident. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that accidents do happen. Leaping deer come to mind. But we habitually call all crashes accidents.  

An accident implies there was no way to prevent it, that it was an act of God and we certainly did not intend for it to happen. It also takes everyone off the hook. We crash our car, someone gets injured, our insurance company takes care of it, we buy a new car, we don’t think about it anymore.

Generally when a motorist injures a bike rider or a pedestrian, and the motorist is not drunk but perhaps distracted, it is rare that there will be any punitive charges. Currently if the bike rider or pedestrian isn’t killed there’s not much that the district attorney can do, there is no legal accountability. It is at most a traffic violation with a fine of up to $95 dollars if there is great bodily injury. That is it. The family or victim can try a civil case but it is unlikely as they probably have bigger things to deal with now.

Last Monday I spent the day in Sacramento pushing for a bill that would define a violation of California Vehicle Code Division 11 that results in an injury as “unsafe operation of a motor vehicle with bodily injury or great bodily injury.” Such a violation would be punishable as a misdemeanor with a minimum jail sentence of 5 days and minimum base fine of $145, equivalent to the minimum base fine for misdemeanor reckless driving without injury. It pretty much didn’t pass out of committee. It will hopefully be coming back in eight months with some of the suggested changes.

Most of us who drive have had crashes or close calls because we were not paying full attention. Because of this, we tend to sympathize with other drivers when they have a crash, saying “I could have been driving that car. I could have been reaching for my phone.” But in reality, we often do not pay the requisite amount of attention when we are behind the wheel. There are so many distractions on the road and in cars now.

As a society we need to recognize the responsibility of driving a car is serious and treat it as such. When we step behind the wheel of an automobile and place the key into the ignition we need to take it as seriously as if we were holding a loaded gun.

When a bicyclist or pedestrian makes an error on the road, they are less likely to kill other road users. Yes, they have responsibility to follow the rules of the road. However, as noted in the Victoria Transport Policy Institute article Whose Roads?, bicyclists and pedestrians “bear a greater share of crash costs than they impose, regardless of who causes a particular crash… this inequity tends to increase as drivers feel safer due to improved safety features (seat belts, air bags, etc.), resulting in greater risk imposed on vulnerable road users (Chirinko and Harper, 1993; “Takeback Effects,” VTPI, 2004) www.vtpi.org/whoserd.pdf.” Driving is a privilege, not a right. It is a huge responsibility that needs to be addressed in our society. Please ride and especially drive with care. Bike riders and pedestrians do not come with air bags as standard equipment.