This essay was written by Portland resident Tony Jordan. He wrote it before yesterday’s tragic crash on East Burnside that resulted in the death of a 10-year-old boy.
Traffic violence is a big problem. More than 30,000 people die every year on American roadways with many many more injured or maimed. The cost of this carnage is tremendous, nearly a trillion dollars a year in social economic harms.
So what do we do about it?
Several cities have adopted Vision Zero policies but progress is slow and people are still being killed in NYC, Portland, San Francisco, and pretty much everywhere else.
Advocates are organizing and lobbying for safer streets, separated bikeways, slower speed limits, more enforcement, and more education. We’re getting better at asking our government for solutions.
But maybe we’re asking the wrong people and, perhaps, the wrong questions. I think we need to be more introspective. Who is driving these cars when they collide with people and ruin lives? We are driving. Our friends are driving. Our co-workers and family members are driving.
We need to ask ourselves and our loved ones these questions. We need to answer them honestly and think deeply about the answers.
– Am I committed to minimizing traffic violence?
– Do I ever drive when I’m sleepy?
– Do I ever drive when I’ve had a few drinks?
– Do I ever use my smart phone while I’m driving?
– Do I ever drive when I’m on medications or drugs that could make me drowsy, cloud my judgement, or slow my reactions?
– Do I keep driving when the sun is in my eyes and I cant see?
– Do I have poor night vision, but I still drive at night?
If you find yourself answering yes, then ask yourself why? Is it worth the risk to others? Is it worth the risk to yourself?
Ask your family and friends…
– How are you getting home tonight?
– Should you get a second drink? Aren’t you driving?
– Could you put your phone down while you’re driving?
– Are you driving at or below the speed limit?
– When was the last time you drove drunk?
– When was the last time you drove distracted?
It’s a bit awkward, but it shouldn’t be awkward for the person asking the questions. It should be awkward for the person not taking their responsibilities seriously.
We all need to step up, push ourselves, and ask these questions. Maybe you’re not an activist, maybe you aren’t attending rallies or writing letters asking officials to do something. But you can ask yourself and the people you know these questions and you can save lives too.
— Tony Jordan, @twjpdx
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Trouble is, enforcement is nil. Rather than a 250 dollar distracted/speeding driver ticket, make it 2,500 dollars and vehicle confiscation. Also, would help pay for the extra policing.
I think what Tony’s getting at isn’t the fines but the moral dimension, what we used to call taking responsibility.
You’ve written that request in a letter to your representative in the legislature, so the law and fines can be changed, yes?
YEAH, MQ, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE??
9watts is right about responsibility acceptance but I agree with Mike that enforcement is bleak. I’d be happy if they’d simply enforce the laws/fines we currently have. I never ever see traffic cops in the city. If they’re too expensive to deploy, please please please expand the latitude of the radar signs! Why do we have to divvy them out so preciously?
Excellent questions. And timely, unfortunately for the youngster who died and his family.
If an employer set up a factory with equipment that was as dangerous and unpredictable as humans guiding 4000lbs hunks of metal at high speeds in the close vicinity of other humans it would be shut down by OSHA immediately. In workplace safety, the actual circumstances of the accident are not the issue but the precautions and guarding that are put in place to make accidents very unlikely. It accidents do occur it is usually the employer who created the unsafe circumstances that is at fault. Not to deflect fault from the drivers mistakes in the tragic event, but we must realize that the system we have of deadly vehicles traveling close to vulnerable road users at high speeds with no physical seperation will produce injury and death at an alarming rate no matter how carefully we regulate the behaviour of drivers. Only a drastic reduction in cars, where they can travel, and how they can be seperated will solve this problem
“Only a drastic reduction in cars, where they can travel, and how they can be seperated will solve this problem”
While I personally wouldn’t mind taking this approach, I don’t agree that this is required. Sweden, interestingly, has taken a very free market approach to cell phone use while driving. All the while making great strides toward Vision Zero, as we know.
“Sweden remains on an increasingly thinning list of European countries allowing mobile phone use while driving, without using hands-free. The others on the list being Albania, Serbia, Moldova and Malta.”
What’s the kill rate for Swedish drivers on cell phones? As in, how many other road users do they kill?
I have no idea. Sweden’s death rate/100,000 is less than 1/4 of our rate (3 vs 12.3). In the US, the share of people killed (2013) by distracted driving is about 10% (3,150/32,700), while the injury rate is 18%, so my guess would be they are doing better.
How hard is it to get a drivers’ license in Sweden, vs. our “cereal box premium” system?
I suspect (as your comment implies you do also) that it is much more involved/expensive/taken more seriously than it is here.
A few years ago a woman drove into the gas main at the DMV in Los Gatos, CA (IIRC) during her driving test. The building had to be evacuated for safety. This was the woman’s third attempt at passing the driving portion of the exam, and I still wonder to this day: Was she allowed a fourth attempt? Did she ever pass? Is there a statute of limitations? and, Is that her next to me at this light??
I would think that a drastic uptick in “Fleet Competence” would do wonders as well. We could very easily (I would naively think) make passing an accredited driver’s education course a prerequisite to obtaining a license—or even a learner’s permit. We could also require more rigorous re-testing at license renewal time, including a test of recently updated or new laws, especially those pertaining to the safety of those not in a metal cage. Finally, we could (probably less easily) allow more strict enforcement of driving privilege suspensions and revocations. By “more strict”, I mean confiscation of vehicles being driven by suspended drivers. No more citations for “driving while suspended or revoked”; you forfeit your car (of course, exceptions could be made for stolen cars or true emergencies).
The biggest problem for average, law-abiding citizens in a world where suspended drivers lose their cars and are forbidden from purchasing new ones would likely be more red tape involved in private car sales. A private seller would either have to be exempted from penalties for selling to a suspended driver, or would need some way to do a “background check” on the buyer’s license status.
I’d love to see a “cannot own or drive a motor vehicle” list maintained by the state. If a dealer sells to someone on the list, s/he is charged. If someone loans their car to someone on the list, bye-bye car. I’d also like to see first-time drunk drivers placed on the list. Diversion and random testing could get them off in a decade or so.
Not to worry, though. I’m unlikely to be dictator any time soon. 🙂
I think that requiring retest for knowledge every renewal is fair, but retesting driving skills would be much better. I got my license in 2014 (though it says 2015) with a renewal date of 2022 and 7 years is a long time. Someone with enough experience should be able to breeze the test as long as they are not taking it at 82nd. If the person in question fails the test or the license expires, they get downgraded back to the learners permit until they pass.
“If an employer set up a factory with equipment that was as dangerous…” bikeninja
Safety obliged to be maintained in a factory workplace, compared to safety obliged to be maintained in the use, design and maintenance of streets and highways, is an analogy that holds some interesting comparisons.
Size and scale of each, has a lot to do with the ability to realistically accomplish high levels of safety. Because of their confined sized, the task of safety is comparatively manageable in factories, compared to the task in street and highway systems.
Per recent track records, Washington County and Beaverton mainly install bike lanes and sidewalks when they add two more car lanes. New freeway for Bethany Blvd.
MADD has been hugely successful at creating a social stigma around drinking and driving. I would love to see this approach extended to distracted driving as well. We need to be shaming people that drive unsafely, whether on purpose (speeding, running stop signs, etc.) or willingly creating distractions for themselves (texting, eating, etc.) People need to learn that their behaviours have consequences for others and for society.
My impression is it wasn’t just social stigma.
It was much tougher penalties for drunk driving (and lower BAC levels, and laws like those showing any alcohol + traffic infraction = DUII) — which were in part because they were able to convince legislators this was a major problem.
Imagine what would happen if speeding were treated the same way as DUII.
First offense, jail possible + $1000-2000 fine + license suspended for a year. Second offense, up to a year in jail + $2000-10,000 fine + license suspended for 3 years. Third offense, up to five years in jail + fine + permanent license loss.
I agree the penalties serve as an effective deterrent, but lobby groups like MADD surely contributed to the increased penalties and lower BAC limits. We can do the same thing for distracted driving: create the social stigma to push lawmakers to increase the fines. Lawmakers likely won’t want to punish drivers for something that is socially acceptable and that many of them do themselves.
I think a better approach would be moderate fines, but you get caught and fined every time you speed! Frequent and likely penalties are better modifiers. A large but seldom applied penalty just makes people think that it probably won’t happen to them.
I agree. Speed cameras are a great tool for this.
Successful Vision Zero campaigns attack the problem from many directions. Better road design, better enforcement, better laws, better adjudication, better road users. This story is about the last one.
the MADD approach took about 20 years to change the social norm and perception. I agree that it is one of the points of attack, and while it is likely to be the least cost and most effective, the time lag to get there using only that point of attack is also likely socially unacceptable.
I also agree, which is why I tend to put far more emphasis on the infrastructure. Social stigma and proper enforcement take a long time to enact, whereas reconfiguring the road to force good driving behaviour can a much faster process and works even when enforcement is lacking.
How do we get our elected representatives to acknowledge that there are no accidents, only moments of negligence?
Maybe cajole them into bicycling regularly in traffic? We could propose to accompany them, offering both solidarity and accountability.
A group in Portland(?) already does annual rides with elected officials.
Sure – and that is all to the good. But I had suggested this be done *regularly*. The risk of one-time rides is that being rare and in a large group the chances of missing precisely what spencer was getting at are pretty high.
I drove out to the location where this happened last night. ( didn’t have time to bike or skate ) I was struck by the poor driving I saw. Between I-205 and 162nd I saw THREE wrong way drivers! I had at least three people pass me going 20 over the posted limit. I saw two people blatantly drive through red lights.
The vehicular homicide occurred next to a busy apartment complex and a equally busy max station located at a very busy intersection. There is a nice treed sidewalk and an unprotected bike lane.
The question I am left with is not, How did this happen? But rather How does this not happen every day? Our poorly designed road network in east Portland combined with seemingly oblivious drivers makes this kind of tragedy envidiable.
The speed limit on E Burnside in Portland (west of 161st) was recently changed, not sure if the signs are up yet.
Burnside was better than stark. Only one of the red light runners was on burnside. But the reality that I witnessed this much bad driving on a single round trip did not give me much hope for east Portland.
It’s not just east Portland. It’s all of Portland. A lot of folks have moved here from much speedier environs than ours and they quickly figured out you can speed with impunity in Portland. And it’s, unfortunately, catching. Why stop when you can get away with it so easily? Hell, why not go even faster?
It’s not just Portland or Oregon, it’s the entire freaking country. Everyone drives too fast, tailgates, and passes too close to vulnerable users. The number of people who actually come to a full stop at a stop sign is about the same as the number of honest politicians. I see 3 or 4 cars pass through the red at almost every signal I see, and I mostly ride the bus or ride my bike. I can only imagine what I would see if I drove.
I’ll give MADD a lot of credit, but if you think we won that battle, let me tell you a story.
I travel frequently for work, and about ten years ago, I was going to Japan quite a bit. I never drove there; I don’t think an American drivers license was recognized in Japan. But my local office co-workers would drive me everywhere I needed (mostly when we were outside Tokyo at a customer site, because it was so easy to get around without a car in Tokyo). Anyway, they’d take us out to dinner, and we would typically drink. Even if the driver had one drink, they would not think of driving back to the hotel. It was absolutely not even a possibility. They would usually call a “replacement driver”—actually TWO drivers who’d show up in one car, and one guy would get in my coworker’s car, drive it and us back to the hotel, while his buddy followed. The whole operation cost less than a taxi, for some reason having to do with licensing, even though it was way more convenient.
These same Japanese co-workers would come to the US just as often. They’d rent cars, go to dinner with us, drink, and drive back to their hotel without even a second thought. There was no company policy forbidding this, but if they did that in Japan—and got caught—they’d get fired. By the same company.
If you think the culture here has turned against drunk driving, maybe it has relative to the past, but we have a HUGE way to go relative to other countries.
I agree 100%, however the approach that MADD takes creating the social stigma is what we should be copying. The rest is left up to the lawmakers to create much harsher punishments, something MADD could certainly push for (but isn’t currently AFAIK).
For any entrepreneurs who want to steal this idea, and I feel like it’s not one I even came up with myself, this driving home a drunk idea could be implemented with a bike. Buy a folding bike, then ride to the drunk’s car, fold the bike up and put it in the trunk, drive them and their vehicle home, then unpack your bike and off you go. The most intrepid might try to offer the service for free and still get paid by looking for a grant that could be used to help public safety. Even if there is a charge, it is likely worth it for the person who gets transported home as they don’t have to worry about picking their car up again somehow later. There’s probably a lot of directions to go from here, the world is your oyster.
It’s actually interesting you don’t seem to know we had such a service. I think it’s telling–not about you personally, of course, but the fact that such a brilliant idea couldn’t even last.
This is a service offered in a few places. It’s pretty cool
Great post, and it brings up my biggest problem with VZ even though I’m fully behind the desired outcome.
Most the problems that are happening on the street are the directly related to a basic lack of civil responsibility or respect for other people using the streets (by all means of transport). The issue is much bigger than signage, or jersey walls, or enforcement, the issue is much bigger and more complicated than anything any or even all the government agencies are currently capable of.
It’s about ethics, culture, morals and respect for your fellow human beings. Recent incidents on the Broadway and Sellwood bridges and the current use of bicycle lanes for parking or turning are all the evidence that you need to see that infrastructure is obeyed on a completely voluntary basis. Fix the mental and moral issues with drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians (no one mode is completely blameless here) and the infrastructure isn’t needed.
I’ve said it over and over, infrastructure is at best merely a band-aid and at worse an excuse for society condoning bad behavior on the streets.
“Fix the mental and moral issues with drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians (no one mode is completely blameless here) and the infrastructure isn’t needed.”
Yikes, yes, but that’s a tall order. Enforcement really works wonders on speeders (look at how nicely folks drive coming into Milwaukie from the north on McLoughlin. They KNOW they’ll get ticketed if they don’t).
We need our traffic cops to simply enforce the law, rigorously. And we need to stop treating photo radar “you are driving ___mph” signs like they’re precious diamonds we can only spare for high crash corridors.
– Do I ever drive when I’m sleepy?
This never gets talked about enough- especially in the urban sphere.
– When was the last time you drove distracted?
So much focus on devices leading to distraction, but I think mental distraction is huge. How many times do you drive when less than calm? Any time you are in a rush, you are distracted, whether you are driving aggressively or not.
“Driving when angry.” When my companion is doing that, I ask to take the wheel – and I hate to drive.
…And those are the easy questions.
–Do I ever get impatient in traffic and take risks to save mere seconds?
–Do I blame other people for my traffic woes, especially pedestrians and/or bicyclists?
–Do I believe that more vulnerable road users had better look out for me rather than the other way around?
–Do I believe that streets were made to be the sole province of motor vehicles, and that pedestrians or bicyclists are uninvited guests that use the roads only thanks to my benevolence?
–Have I ever tried to “teach a lesson” to another driver, a pedestrian, or a bicyclist?
–Do I believe that I know all applicable traffic laws, even though I haven’t looked at a driver’s manual since 1987?
–When I’m driving, do I consciously make paying attention and safely controlling my vehicle my first priority?
–Do I expect pedestrians and bicyclists to “be seen”, or do I actively look for them?
–Do I drive more slowly in limited visibility or limited traction situations?
–At a STOP sign or red light, do I stop prior to rolling into the crosswalk, marked or unmarked?
–Do I diligently use turn signals?
–Have I taught myself to scan multiple “zones” for specific things, or do I fixate on a gap in auto traffic, then bolt across a sidewalk/crosswalk, a bike lane, and two lanes of traffic without looking for pedestrians or bicyclists?
Please point those questions at yourself as well. Vision zero, doesn’t lie with one set of road users, we all have to take responsibility to make roads safer. It is very tiresome to see the blame only going one way when there are plenty of distracted cyclists, plenty of cyclists not looking out for pedestrians, plenty of cyclists trying to “teach lessons”.
“there are plenty of distracted cyclists, plenty of cyclists not looking out for pedestrians, plenty of cyclists trying to ‘teach lessons’.”
Again?! It has been less than four days since Jim tried this one –
“Vision zero, doesn’t lie with one set of road users, we all have to take responsibility to make roads safer.”
Please show me where a jurisdiction that is presently pursuing Vision Zero is remonstrating people walking and biking to take responsibility. It isn’t happening, and for good reason. Those who understand Vision Zero also understand that the automobile driven at speed is the problem that needs to be contained.
Do I get a Touche?
Not from me.
We have had ample opportunity here to learn just how biased PBOT can be when it comes to assigning responsibility. I’ve had conversations with Sharon White about the materials PBOT puts out and that have also been covered here on bikeportland. What I expected (had hoped) was that with the adoption of Vision Zero PBOT would finally put away this framing and graduate to the approach I associate with Vision Zero around the world that as I said above recognizes and seeks to contain the menace that is the automobile; stops focusing on what people walking and biking should wear and how alert they should be to inattentive drivers, etc.
You associate, but have provided no evidence of any external entity that ignores the responsibility of all road users.
You wrote “Please show me where a jurisdiction that is presently pursuing Vision Zero is remonstrating people walking and biking to take responsibility.” and I did.
Kids on the move:
2nd bullet from bottom of page 108, and top of page 109 ‘shared responsibility’:
Sweden also uses the term ‘shared responsibility’:
The responsibility for safety lies exclusively on the group causing all the death and suffering: car drivers.
False. The responsibility for each person’s safety resides with each person.
Would you say the same thing of victims of gun violence?
As most gun violence is not random in nature, why not? Associating with someone that owns a firearm, or by proxy engages in activities that suggest gun ownership, increases your risk of that firearm being used against you.
Did I not phrase each question as, “Do I…”?
I phrased them in the context of driving a car (even though many of them might apply to riding a bike as well) because adopting a dangerous attitude or being careless in a car is many, many times more deadly than doing it on foot or on a bike.
Also, explain how a bicyclist might try to “teach a lesson” to a driver? The biggest lesson I could imagine would be catching up to a driver at the next light, by which they might learn that any risks they took with your life were 100% pointless.
Want safer streets? Ask for them: http://ourhealthystreets.org/action-alert-tell-metro-to-commit-to-safe-routes-to-school/
so sad 🙁 heart goes out his parents..
Thank you for this article. I agree, many of us aren’t willing to enforce ourselves, and that’s where change begins. I read some where recently that revolution is easy, building a society is difficult. Too many people want to take the easy way out and have someone else shoulder their burdens.
I’ve long been in favor of expanded enforcement of the existing traffic laws, which is currently weak to non existent, in my experience on the the streets of Portland daily.
Thus, I am in favor of adding a zero to all traffic violation fines and encouraging law enforcement to make our streets safer by handing out tickets to the huge quantity of distracted drivers I see daily. Also, liberally apply diversion training and license and vehicle confiscation to failure to yield and distracted driving tickets.
I believe in this modern “me” society, the only change to current driving culture will come through loss of driving privileges and the pocketbook. Otherwise, zero vision, carry on.
If one reads the news reports on the event that was used to illustrate this article, by all accounts the accident was unavoidable by the driver. I’m sure a far better example was available in your archives.
There was no investigation into this crash, so we may never know for sure.
Don’t forget driving while high.
I wonder if it wouldn’t be more effective to have more enforcement–5 $50 fines, or 10 $25 ones, rather than one $250 fine. There are people for whom $250 is not much, but the nuisance and time in paying a $25 fine, especially if it had to be paid in person at the courthouse and additionally required a mandatory two hour safety training lecture, would be a significant nuisance. Further, for a poor person, a large fine is very regressive–that $250 could well force the choice of paying the rent or putting food on the table. Finally, I suspect that a police officer would be more willing to write a $25 ticket for a common violation (e.g: rolling stop or 30 mph in 25 zone) than a $250 one.
Is there any research on the relevant effect of fairly probable fine vs. an improbable big fine?
The way cars are designed now is not helpful.
I drive a car so rarely these days. Rented a car tonight for my sis’s birthday. I drove manuals all my life and have noticed automatics now automatically propel forward unless your foot’s on the brake. Instead of the driver being responsible for the desired forward motion after a stop (by putting the foot on the gas), the car automatically goes for you.
This seems like totally insane design to me, and dangerous–esp. w/ inattentive/incapacitated drivers at the wheel. It explains a lot of the lurching drivers I see, and the ones who roll through stop signs (or at you), and parking lot fender benders (lurch!). I see drivers do that little spurt forward a lot–esp. older drivers. I wonder how often it’s related to this now-ubiquitous auto-propel feature?
I think nearly every car should have a manual transmission. You should always feel like you’re driving. You should be aware that you’re driving, that you’re navigating a heavy and dangerous vehicle. You should FEEL it. And it seems the evolution of auto design is to make you feel it less and less.
That’s a gas mileage thing, a tight torque converter to reduce slippage and motion lost to heat. While I’m in favor of using less gas I think bringing the lock up clutch of the torque converter in at a lower speed is better than running such a tight converter.
Zow, Opus–I grew up around mechanics but clearly learned nothing. That’s interesting–thanks for the inside scoop! Does it really save that much gas? Because, it’s crazy! It’s an obstacle to good/safe driving.
Under CAFE every .01MPG saved can mean $millions in reduced fines or in bonuses for beating the standard. And some transmission designs don’t allow for a lockup converter so they HAVE to use a really tight converter. I have been racing and hot rodding for many years, I learned a lot of things in the process.
reduce the amount of car traffic.