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When traffic violence hits home

Posted by on February 17th, 2021 at 10:16 am

The Maus family mini-van and the aftermath of Tuesday’s crash on the Marquam Bridge.

I follow every road authority and first responder in the region so I can stay abreast of every reported crash just in case one of them warrants more attention.

On Tuesday, one of these blips on my screen was a crash on I-5 that involved my wife and 15-year-old daughter.

They are fine. We are lucky. And now they understand their dad a bit better.

Everyone in my family knows how much traffic violence weighs on my mind when we’re in the car together. I drive slowly and carefully and I get nervous when others don’t. It’s annoying to everyone — especially my teenagers who roll their eyes and say I’m “obsessed” with safety. I can’t not be, I tell them. I’ve seen too much.

The constant stream of sad and bad news I read every day — mixed with all the stories I’ve written, the crash scenes I’ve visited, the vigils I’ve attended, and all the moms and dads and brothers and sisters of victims I’ve talked with over all these years. It has physically altered my brain.

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When my phone rang yesterday and I heard my girl say, “Dad, we were in a crash on the Marquam Bridge (I-5)” I was calm. Surprisingly so. Maybe because the tone of her voice told me I could be. But I also think — and this unsettles me still — that in some twisted way, I thought, “Yep, I knew this would happen.” The normalization of traffic violence I write and read about at work all the time has infected me so much that I didn’t even freak out when members of my own family where hit from behind at a high speed and spun-around on the top deck of a freeway bridge hundreds of feet above the Willamette River.

I was scared and worried as it sunk in. I teared up a bit when I finally got to hug them. But I can’t shake this thought: That I’ve become a robot without feelings, programmed to expect traffic violence — even when it happens to my own flesh and blood.

The system has no feelings either. With no major injuries and no police response, the system won’t know this ever happened. There will be no investigation of why this man lost control of his car, no consideration of punishment for his actions, and no consideration of how/if the infrastructure played a role.

Just another blip on the screen.

Over breakfast this morning we talked about mundane things like insurance and replacing our van. My wife brought up her disappointment that the guy who hit them never said sorry or checked to make sure they were OK. I ranted a bit about how quickly the well-oiled Auto Industrial Complex kicked into gear and how various interests will gladly profit off the crash.

And then there are nagging questions: What if they were in a smaller car? What if the other guy was in a huge SUV? What if they hit the guardrail and plunged into the river (like this horrible crash a few days ago)? What if they were more seriously injured? Or what if… I don’t even want to think about that.

What I can and will think about are questions I grappled with long before my daughter’s phone call, but that carry even sharper edges today: What if we made it more normal to reject this violent epidemic rather than to accept it? How many lives could we save if we did that? How many lives are acceptable to sacrifice? How many lives in your own family are you willing to sacrifice?

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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CaptainKarma
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CaptainKarma

Before the pandemic, I was ramping up on train and bus riding, counting on the laws of physics to help me survive better. Hope we can return to that sooner than later.

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

Glad you guys are ok.

PTB
Guest
PTB

The dude in the red BMW wasn’t remorseful or concerned for the well being of others?

Ted
Guest
Ted

Glad everyone is ok. Most insurers recommend not saying anything that would be an admission of fault (e.g., “I’m sorry”), but everyone should check to make sure everyone else is ok.

Lazy Spinner
Guest
Lazy Spinner

First off, I am genuinely happy to hear that your wife and daughter are fine following this unfortunate incident. Objects are replaceable, the other driver’s insurance will be paying for any damages based on the photos, and the truly important treasures in your life are still in your life.

This is clearly an upsetting experience for you. I submit that your reaction when your daughter called was both appropriate and mature. That is not robotic nor cold. It is a rational response. You were being strong, calm, level headed, and ready to offer assistance and comfort to your family in a crisis. That is far superior to having an emotional meltdown and potentially escalating any fears being experienced on the other end of that call. I also commend your young daughter for her apparent cool reserve in that moment.

I will respectfully take umbrage with a couple of things. I know that you abhor the term “accident”, but “traffic violence” is an unnecessarily inflammatory phrase without evidence or context. Nothing in your account suggests malice or gross negligence on the part of the other driver. He most assuredly made mistakes but, the phrase makes this seem like a pre-meditated act targeting your loved ones. I agree with you that serious steps must be taken to make our roads safer however, I am as uncomfortable with the usage of this phrase just as I would be with someone labeling a protest as a “violent riot” because a lone individual tagged a building or threw an object at police. It doesn’t help the situation and just galvanizes people into entrenched factions unwilling to speak to the other side. Bike Portland has always been a great place to exchange ideas and respectfully debate policies. This turns it into Fox News and characterizes an unfortunate non-injury traffic incident as a sinister assault on bicycles, alternative transportation, and families.

This also leads me to your commentary regarding the Auto Industrial Complex and your notion that it is some unfeeling monster spreading an epidemic of violence. My goodness! That sounds like the rantings of a collegiate freshman in the midst of their first political science class. Again, I feel that this is unnecessarily divisive. Auto manufacturing and auto insurance are industries with business models. Law enforcement and government transportation agencies are bureaucracies concerned with meeting their charter obligations. Both, by their very natures, are amoral. They are not in the business of good vs. evil. They are simply trying to meet their respective missions of profitability, accountability, and progress. How they operate is certainly open to debate and that debate should be engaged. Do you really think that someone sits in an office at BMW designing ways to make cars deadlier? That teams working at PBOT, ODOT, and the federal DOT scheme to create more traffic fatalities and injuries? That is an absurd notion! We all want positive change to come faster than it does but, there is no cabal of ghouls at these companies and agencies rooting for more death and property damage.

Nothing is or will ever be 100% safe. We can certainly try to lessen the bad odds through better behaviors and policies but, our world is chock full of random events beyond our control. You are right to be concerned and even a bit frightened, Jonathan. You also see more destruction than the average person in your line of work. Just don’t become so wrapped up in “what ifs?” and fear that you lose perspective. Don’t marginalize your own work and advocacy with emotionally charged buzzwords and phrases that are off putting to those people we need to bring to our side. Remember “Defund the Police”? Many of us knew exactly what that meant – reallocate resources for mental health intervention, stop sending untrained cops to mental health crisis calls. To the less aware public and, thanks to demagogues, that became defined as “firing cops for no good reason”. Words matter but, painting the act of driving as a perpetration of violence and entire industries as inherently evil only delays positive progress and threatens to make potential allies into sworn enemies.

Mike
Guest
Mike

Jonathan –
How many lives of your own family are you willing to sacrifice to the Auto Industrial Complex? You just purchased a third vehicle if I remember correctly.
One could argue that if you, or anyone in your household, uses a road (whether on foot, bicycle, mass transit or automobile), you are willing to sacrifice yourself or that family member.

Marco A
Guest
Marco A

Driving “absurdly slowly” is actually dangerous. It disrupts the normal flow of traffic.

Phil M
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Phil M

It seems traffic violence is out there in all forms. Here is a tragic case of bicycle violence.

https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2019/10/31/medical-examiner-pedestrian-hit-by-cyclist-died-from-complications/

Ed Birnbaum
Guest
Ed Birnbaum

I’m so glad they’re OK, Jonathan.

hamiramani
Subscriber

Jonathan, thank you for sharing this; I know it was probably not easy to do.

rh
Guest
rh

Glad everyone is okay and it sounds like the other driver had insurance (or maybe you have uninsured motorist coverage).

Doug Hecker
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Doug Hecker

Glad they are safe.

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

Glad no one was seriously injured, but your wife and daughter might be injured and not know it. They absolutely MUST go and get examined within a few days of the crash. Adrenaline initially masks the pain of neck injuries, and you may not feel it for several days.

Fortunately the separation of vertebrae is very easy to see on an X-ray, and easy to diagnose objectively. A qualified osteopath or chiropractor also knows exactly where to palpate to detect sensitivity where the victims might not have noticed. Both your and the other driver’s insurance companies may try to get you to sign something in a couple of weeks saying there were no injuries, in order to close off any liability. They know what they’re doing, so don’t do it unless you’re absolutely sure that’s the case, and your loved ones can’t be sure at this stage without an exam. They might be fine, but you won’t know until you know. Having them checked out this week is not optional.

I’ve been rear-ended (in cars) twice, in crashes that caused about the same amount of visible damage to the vehicles as in your wife’s case. I didn’t feel any pain at all for the first couple days, and then my neck started to hurt. Two weeks after each crash, the pain was worse than a week after the crash. In both cases I ended up having to have treatments several times a year for months (which took a huge chunk out of my schedule) and refrain from aggressive physical activity (including mountain biking, and paved rides longer than 30-60 minutes) for around a year.

Spinal injuries are insidious. I was skeptical of these types of injuries until they happened to me, and have since learned that the soft tissues around your spine don’t heal on the same timeline that we’re used to for other kinds of injuries. It was 2-3 years before I could do physical work above my head (like cutting tree branches, painting ceilings, even changing light bulbs) without minor pain in my neck that would last for minutes or even hours afterwards. More than 15+ years later, I can do almost all the activities I could do before (except lie on the couch to watch TV), but you’re never 100% the same again. Take this seriously.

ralph
Guest
ralph

Close calls make most of us think and rethink what’s true, what’s important. I’m glad your family is OK.

Steve
Guest

My power went out over the past several days due to “Weather violence”.

All joking aside, I’m glad your family is ok.

damiene
Subscriber
damiene

For all the word lawyering, I’m surprised nobody just looked up “violence” in the dictionary.
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/violence

1a : the use of physical force so as to injure, abuse, damage, or destroy

I’m assuming this is the one most are hanging their hat on. The “so as to” implies intent, sure.

But wait, there’s more:

3a : intense, turbulent, or furious and often destructive action or force
//the violence of the storm

I would say this fits very well in this situation, as well as other violent traffic incidents.

Tom
Guest
Tom

“How many lives in your own family are you willing to sacrifice?”
My family has sacrificed one incredibly valuable precious life to traffic violence. One too many.

PATRICK
Guest
PATRICK

I’m so glad your family is OK. I habitually drive the speed limit and try to keep in the right lane. Even so, sad drivers living in desperation continue to whip around me to get to their destination a few seconds faster. Thoreau’s quote from Walden comes to mind, “The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.” They rarely experience contentment. They rarely pay attention to majority of life that is Mundane, significant, and frequently beautiful.

X
Guest
X

I’m glad your family members appear to be OK.

A few days ago somebody asked us to quit making the car-gun comparison. Sorry, I can’t. The by-product, the collateral damage, of personal motor vehicles as “transportation” is a yearly number of deaths approximately equal to deaths by shooting. Each day in the US, about 100 people who just want to get someplace die in a car crash. There’s no unviolent way to die in a car crash.

Adam
Guest
Adam

I am so sorry that your family had to endure this at the hands of someone in their assumably turbo-charged pen*s extension. And thankful that it wasn’t worse. It looks like exactly the sort of vehicle I see aggressively lane-weaving at high speed across the Fremont Bridge almost every day.

My next upgrade for my car is front and rear dashcam, because of exactly this kind of idiocy. I am a pathologically careful driver. But that doesn’t count for **** if nobody else around you is.

mark smith
Guest
mark smith

Why didn’t he apologize? Because he was looking at his phone. That car is designed to stop far faster/better than an aging minivan (sorry, minvans are old tech from day one, tech starts in Europe). That car on paper is worth a lot…and this dude just takes his trust fund/hedge check plus insurance and in days has the same type of car. I see it every day in a truck. They don’t care and insurance doesn’t worry about it as they cash their thousands of dollars every year from us….

Someday…insurance companies will require inboard cameras for an auto discount just like trucks have. Until this, it’s game on.

Andrew Kreps
Guest
Andrew Kreps

You know what I find interesting, I broke my arm recently riding one of those electronic skateboards. When I tell acquaintances like coworkers about it, I get a lot of flak like, “what were you doing on that thing anyway” or “aren’t you too old for one of those things?”

If I had broken my arm in a traffic collision in an automobile, even if it was my fault, I would have received universal understanding and compassion. Just an observation.