Raquel Nelson was attempting to cross a Marietta, GA traffic sewer with her three children, when her 4-year-old darted into the road in an attempt to follow another pedestrian. The child was killed by a hit and run driver who later admitted to being impaired and had two previous hit and run convictions. Did they lock the guy up and throw away the key? Well no. Instead the Cobb County Solicitor chose to prosecute the grieving mother for vehicular manslaughter in the death of her own child! And the jury convicted her!
You can read more about this case on Transportation for America and Streetsblog, but the coverage I like best is Sarah Goodyear’s article on Grist. In addition to gathering a lot of details, she really nails the depth of our dysfunction:
[Y]ou can bet that the route Nelson and her children and all the other riders of that bus were taking across that road was a desire path, trodden by many hundreds of feet before. It was the logical, organic way to get from the bus stop to the apartment building.
But no planner saw fit to acknowledge it. No traffic engineer marked it with paint. No municipal official put a traffic signal there so that the humans could proceed safely along the route that everyone knew they would inevitably take.
Why not? Because it was too important for the cars to get through. The cars must not be inconvenienced. The cars must go faster.
Out in Colorado, a fancy competition was recently held to design a bridge that would help bears and cougars and lynx to cross from one side of a highway to the other in safety. Elsewhere, “toad tunnels” have been constructed to help the amphibians get to their breeding ponds. British Telecom paid $32,280 for an otter tunnel to be built near one of its satellites after a female otter and two of her cubs were killed crossing the road to fish.
That is all fine and good. Let’s help the animals cross the road, by all means.
But what about the people?
Somehow we feel a moral responsibility to help toads cross the street, but not transit users. Under that irony is some sick truth. I suspect this is where our fantasy about meritocracy and the car culture intersect. People who can’t afford cars have a lower status in our culture than toads.
I’m quite fond of toads, BTW.
It’s just so backwards. People who prove time and again that they have no business operating a motor vehicle are permitted to continue doing so. Even after they kill someone, they are barely punished. Our traffic justice system is absurd. But as whacked as it is, how could the system allow a car-less victim of an impaired and irresponsible driver to be prosecuted for vehicular manslaughter?
Stand up to the culture of speed.
In the end, I hope the publicity surrounding this case forces Americans to take a sober look at how pathological the culture of speed has become.