Until recently, the New York City Police Department officially referred to the cause of traffic fatalities as “accidents.” And while bona fide accidents do happen every day, using the word as a blanket term seems to absolve anyone involved in the injury of another under the assumption that the “accident” was just that. But in many cases such occurances aren’t entirely accidental. Often times there’s an undenialble reason for the incident—negligance, irresponsibility, incompetence and even malice come into play. And so while the motorist who inadvertantly struck a cyclist while driving and texting may not have intended to cause injury, it’s undeniable that the driver was at fault. And depending on the local vehicle codes, they could be found criminally liable. And so it’s certain—accident is not the right word.
“Collision” is the new term that the NYPD has officially begun using. Their Accident Investigation Squad has been redubbed the Collision Investigation Squad, and advocates in New York and beyond herald this as a victory in their campaign to change the worldwide view of traffic fatalities. Additionally, pressure from advocacy groups such as Transportation Alternatives has caused the NYPD to change their investigation protocol. Before the recent reforms, police routinely declined to investigate many collisions, and they’ve been notably hesitant to press criminal charges in traffic fatalities. Now it seems that the new protocol will be for NYPD to investigate any collision that results in a critical injury, not just in a “likely to die” scenerio.
These gains made in New York may give hope to advocates in the Twin Cities who are pushing for legislation in Minnesota to increase penalties for hitting non-motorists. The Vulnerable Road User Law would increase the maximum penalty for hitting and injuring or killing a bicyclist from $1000 and up to 90 days in jail to $3000 and up to one year in jail.
Of course, even if that legislation passes, it seems like little more than a slap on the wrist for guilty motorists. In issue #33 I wrote about the hit and run death of James Price. After several months without justice, his killer was brought into custody and accepted a plea bargain of two and a half to five years in prison. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Jeffrey McClure pleaded guilty to “accidents involving death or personal injury” and “accidents involving death or personal injury while not properly licensed.”
Again, the term “accident” hardly seems fitting. Jeffrey McClure collided with James Price and left him for dead. And then he hid from the law like a guilty murderous coward.
I suppose as cyclists and advocates we have to take what we can get. At least justice has been served to some extent, albeit not to the biblical level of “an eye for an eye” that we might wish for. And thanks to the innumerous advocates working on our behalf, things continue to change for the better.