Monday, March 25, 2019

Crash Reporting on Fairway Avenue Mystifies Causes

It's the worst news in the world: Your child is dead.

The first story on Sunday

Today's follow-up
There's an understandable urge for tact in writing about tragedy like this. But in not naming what happened as best we can, we end up mystifying the calamity in ways the reduce the likelihood of future prevention.

From Sunday:
One teenager died and four others were hospitalized early Saturday morning after a car they were in hit a tree in South Salem, police said.[italics added]
And from today:
When a black sedan rammed into a tree, South Salem resident Christian Turner thought it was the sound of a bomb going off.

Turner, 42, and his partner were in their backyard early Saturday when they heard a car accelerate, followed by a loud explosion. [italics added]
Even though the driver was a young person who made a grievous error in judgement, who did the kind of dumb thing that teenagers just inherently do, the set of driving decisions had life-shattering consequences.

When we report stories and ascribe agency to an automobile, refuse to focus on the human agent and choose not to say "after the driver lost control and hit a tree at high speed," we contribute to the autoist culture that minimizes the lethality and dangers of driving. It's not until the ninth paragraph in the second story that we get to "the driver" and agent in charge of the vehicle. The first story on Sunday never once mentions a driver in charge. "It's framing traffic deaths as things that kind of happen..."

Columbia Journalism Review
There also appears to be a problem here with an overbuilt road with a design speed much too tolerant of speeding. More from today's story:
Police said speed appears to be a contributing factor in the crash....

Milroy and Turner said this isn’t the first crash they’ve witnessed on the same street. They estimate there were at least five last year.

The couple has expressed their concern to City Council and the Salem Police Department.

Milroy, her partner and other neighbors hope to resolve the speed issue with speed bumps.

“People are blowing right through this road,” Milroy said. “It’s an ongoing problem.”
Crash scene from Salem Police

Trees, but no parking; a double-yellow and bike lanes
For as much as we complain about parking here, this is a street on which curbside parallel parking might narrow the travel lanes and have a traffic calming benefit. Especially at night, the bike lanes here widen the road for a higher implied design speed. (And the travel lane might be too wide anyway.) Though it looks like it is formally designated a "collector," this street design is probably too much of an arterial, oriented for through-put. The graceful curves look nice, but also may induce speed. Speed bumps may or may not be the right solution, but it seems clear the road is designed wrong for appropriate neighborhood speeds. Even if in theory the as-built design is correct, in practice it seems problematic, and we should want to root our engineering practices more solidly in empirical fact.

As for the driver, and urge for tact in not demonizing him or her, it's instructive to remember that Mark Hatfield - yes, that Mark Hatfield, Governor and Senator - struck and killed a little girl at her mail box on Skyline Road near Liberty when he was a teen in 1940. A civil case went to the Oregon Supreme Court. See more at Lane v. Hatfield, 173 Or. 79, 143 P.2d 230. He went on to lead an uncommon life.

This post may be updated as the crash investigation releases information. (See previous notes on erasing the driver here.)

1 comment:

Doug's Transportation Ramblings said...

I think it would be more accurate to say “failed to maintain control” rather than “lost control.” Loss of control suggests a momentary lapse. I doubt that that was the case. Rather, it is probably safe to assure that the driver had been and was operating in a manner that he or she would not have been able to stop or avoid a hazard or some other unexpected situation for some time and distance. In other words, the driver did not have control of the vehicle for some period of time. In this case, it tragically ended with a collision with it tree.