Sunday was World Day of Remembrance of Traffic Crash Victims and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) paid her respects with a tweet.

“Traffic violence kills thousands and injures even more Americans every year. On World Day of Remembrance for Traffic Crash Victims, I’m sending my love to the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones. It’s time to #EndTrafficViolence,” Sen. Warren tweeted.

Katie Herzog, a reporter with The Stranger specializing in contrarian takes capriciously piercing Seattle’s liberal bubble, paid her respects by savaging Warren for daring to care about this issue.

“For a moment, this tweet reminded me of someone suffering from memory issues,” Herzog wrote. “Perhaps she forgot the word ‘accident’ and her brain settled on ‘violence’ instead. But, it turns out, that the term ‘traffic violence’ was not made up by whoever or whatever runs the candidate’s Twitter.”

More than 40,000 people died in crashes on American roads last year for the third straight year. Herzog didn’t mention that. And increasingly it is people outside cars who are paying the price; pedestrian deaths are climbing at the fastest rate. Road deaths outnumber gun deaths, and that’s including suicides, which make up the majority of gun deaths. Herzog hasn’t written a think piece about how gun violence is wimpy liberal snowflake language to my knowledge.

“Apparently there’s been an effort to rebrand car accidents as ‘traffic violence’ going back at least a few years,” she added, before giving us a brief book report on safety advocacy. Herzog’s brief tourist trip into safety advocacy led her to advocates like Tom Fucoloro of Seattle Bike Blog and Angie Schmitt, who is writing a book on the pedestrian safety crisis.

Schmitt came to town in October and previewed her book for Seattle safe streets advocates. Bear in mind Herzog’s foray into road safety didn’t get this deep, but high among Schmitt’s suggestions to lower road deaths was for the federal government to embrace Vision Zero (as pledges to eliminate road deaths by a certain year are called) and make it a top priority. This model bore fruit in France, and Sen. Warren’s tweet suggests she is open to something like that–and she is currently polling second behind former Vice President Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination. It’s OK that advocates are excited about this, and personally I think it will help a presidential candidate more than hurt her to lead on this issue.

Ultimately, Herzog comes nearly full circle after her book report and grants we need better language around car crashes, but she still insists it’s bad politics, although it’s not clear why. She likes her politics cynical and lowest common denominator it seems.

“Still, while I am persuaded that the term ‘accident’ is a misnomer—and one that those in criminal justice, law, insurance, and the media should probably avoid—I’m not so sure using the term ‘traffic violence’ will benefit Elizabeth Warren,” Herzog said. “Liberals are already accused of misapplying the term ‘violence’ to everything from speech to getting someone’s pronoun wrong. Calling car crashes ‘traffic violence’ may signal to those in the know that Warren gets it. The question is, what does it signal to everyone else?”

The implication her is that those affected by car crashes is a small subset, but it’s actually a large group of Americans, given the body count and injury rate. Many safety advocates didn’t get involved on a whim but because they saw lives of friends or family members cut short in car crashes. Our own Owen Pickford is an example of this, as is Fucoloro, who had his own reaction to Warren’s tweet and implicitly the backlash to that Herzog stoked.

Herzog never did say what word she does like for car crashes and America’s century of carnage on roads designed for speeding cars built to be more deadly (since it’s more profitable) and governed by laws crafted to shield drivers, car companies, and traffic engineers from responsibility. It’s easier to tear something down than build it up. To be fair, it’s not just her. Many people are in the habit of looking past the 40,000 dead bodies every year, the families torn apart, the hundreds of thousands of people seriously injured, the financial ruin, and environmental calamity. Maybe that’s not violence. Maybe I’m being a snowflake–an “extremely online millennial.” But it sounds pretty devastating to me.

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8 COMMENTS

  1. Should driving an automobile be subsidized? Gregory Shill, a law professor at the University of Iowa, has just published a superb law review article about the hidden subsidies for automobile transportation.

    “Should the Law Subsidize Driving?”

    https://ibl.law.uiowa.edu/article/review-gregory-shill-should-law-subsidize-driving

    https://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3345366

    We are uncompensated for the risks we face as pedestrians, for pollution and damage to our environment, for the use of public right-of-ways to store private vehicles. Why should pedestrians and bicyclists be second class users of the public roads?

  2. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that my wife was born and raised in Illinois. So you can forget about the West Coast versus Midwest idea.

  3. @Bob — Pedestrians ages 65 and older accounted for 20% of all pedestrian deaths in 2016. That is not a personal anecdote, or a number I pulled out of my hat. That comes from the CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/pedestrian_safety/index.html.

    But as long as we are sharing anecdotes, let me tell you about my wife. She is in her 60s. She is very safety conscious. As a former nurse practitioner, she has an interest in public health issues, which is why she has a subscription to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety magazine (we are both old — we read magazines). She is probably the most cautious, safe pedestrian I’ve ever seen. Yet several times she has come close to being hit on her way to volunteer at the nearby school. She isn’t looking at her phone, or thinking about some hot guy. She is simply trying to cross the street where you are supposed to cross, but a car quickly turns the corner, and there is a close call.

    Look at the numbers. It isn’t young, absent minded or ignorant people getting hit, as you suggest. It is older folks, or people of every age just crossing the street at the crosswalk, who are getting hit. We know how to cross the street. Yet sometimes a car comes out of nowhere, and the little old lady gets hit.

    Suggesting that pedestrians should become more aware is like saying we should all be more careful because someone on the road might be drunk. That isn’t the problem. Yes, pedestrian training is important. But it isn’t nearly as important as driving education and safer streets. There are lots of streets that are simply dangerous, and require extraordinarily driver and pedestrian actions for safe passage. Addressing the problem — at every level — would help us fix these problems. Blaming the victim will not.

  4. Growing up in Detroit many decades ago, at around five- or seven-years-old my parents taught me how to safely cross a street. It covered two key points: 1. Look both ways and (here’s the clincher) don’t step into traffic if vehicles are coming. And, 2., Even if the vehicle owes you the right of way, arguing with two tons of fast-moving steel could very well be regrettable. At around 16 years old I read that on the West Coast, pedestrians just willy-nilly step into traffic and cars stop for them to cross. It sounded strange, careless and fate-tempting. Did no one explain how this works to them, I wondered? At 65-years-old and two decades in the Seattle area, I have abided my parents’ lesson, and I live another day, while pedestrian carnage is fed by the victims. Granted, driver negligence is responsible from some pedestrian injuries, but can’t we at least teach our kids how to cross a street (defensively) safely. I taught mine. They’re in their 30s. Haven’t been wacked by a car yet.

    Would love to see some comparative per-capita statistics on pedestrian “accidents” with vehicles between East of the Mississippi cities and West Coast cities. I’m thinking you nerds are just the wonks to do it.

    • Bob, I’m going to be surprised if data actually change your opinion (I’m betting that you are still going to chalk up your luck to your own superiority) but here goes:

      More pedestrians were killed in Michigan than in Washington in 2016: 1.63 per 100k vs 1.15 per 100k. However the percentage of pedestrian deaths as a total of all traffic deaths was about the same – 15.2% vs 15.6% – suggesting that Michigan pedestrians were not particularly more careless than Washingtonians.

      You can also average the numbers as you requested dividing down the Mississippi and you’ll find that it’s 1.71 per 100k east compared to 1.55 per 100k west. However if you do a statistical analysis the probability of those groups being the same is 0.42, that is, there is really no difference.

      You can check the numbers here:
      https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812493

  5. “The implication her is that those affected by car crashes is a small subset, but it’s actually a large group of Americans, given the body count and injury rate.”

    I would even argue that almost everybody is affected, but the perception of safety affects our transportation choices. If you think you’re likely to get hit by a car, you won’t walk (which also means you won’t ride transit). I don’t drive and do 90+% of my trips soley on foot and every time a pedestrian is hit in our neighborhood my husband gets the jitters about my safety. And even though I don’t let such events stop me from walking, safety considerations do affect which businesses I patronize. And this is without me or anybody I know personally having been hit. Anybody who cares about global warming and/or road congestion should care about pedestrian safety.

    Also, I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who finds Herzog annoying. 😛

  6. Good god… So because some liberals broaden the term violence to include verbal acts, situations where innocent people are bludgeoned to death by large metal objects shouldn’t be considered violence?

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