Accidents happen. It is an unfortunate truth. But accidents that happen as a result of a person carelessly wielding a dangerous weapon are punishable by law. People who are charged and convicted in accidental shooting deaths face severe consequences and often serve jail time. Yet, in the Bay Area, drivers who are charged in accidental pedestrian deaths often walk away without any consequences. Cars can be as dangerous as guns, oftentimes more so. 3,000 pounds of metal traveling 25-60 miles an hour is a undoubtedly deadly weapon. The broken bodies of the people struck by vehicles can attest to that. Unfortunately, the Bay Area has one of the highest pedestrian casualty rates in the entire nation. In the last 10 years pedestrians have accounted for more than 25% of the traffic-related fatalities in the Bay Area. Only the notorious New York and Los Angeles areas outpace us in pedestrian fatalities. Of these 434 pedestrian fatalities, 1/3 were in crosswalks when they were killed. That’s nearly 144 people killed while crossing in a safe zone, nearly three times the national average.
Adding insult to injury (or death), 60% of the 238 motorists found to be at fault or suspected of a crime in the death of a pedestrian faced no criminal charges. When drivers did face criminal charges, punishment was often light. Even more confounding, licenses were rarely suspended. Of those few people who were charged with a crime, less than 60% had their driving privileges suspended or revoked for even one day. 40% of those convicted faced no more than a day in jail. “If there isn’t a penalty, the message is that it’s all right to run people over and kill them,” said Elizabeth Stampe, executive director and the sole paid employee of nonprofit advocacy group Walk San Francisco on whose Board of Directors Shaana Rahman sits. “There’s a joke from New York that maybe isn’t very funny: If you want to kill someone and get away with it, use a car – and that’s true here as well.”
The disturbing truth of the matter is that by law each and every one of the 238 motorists found to be at fault are guilty. They have indeed committed a crime and should be prosecuted as such. However, D.A.s often refuse to bring charges because they feel that they could never get a jury to convict. As such, reckless drivers are rarely brought to justice and pedestrians continue to die in avoidable accidents at unbelievably high rates. To drive is to take the lives of others into your hands. The safety of the pedestrians around you becomes your responsibility. When that responsibility is blatantly ignored and someone is killed or seriously injured as a result, the law requires justice and action, not a blind-eye and shrug of regret as nothing is done and that family is left to grieve with neither.