Traffic Violence or a Traffic Accident? No More Blaming the Victim for Pedestrian Accidents

 Should a Pedestrian Fatality be Referred to as Traffic Violence or a Traffic Accident?Pedestrians are Victims of Traffic Violence — Not Accident Victims

Gone are the days when angry mobs would inact “street justice” on drivers who hit pedestrians. Indeed, a hundred years ago, a driver who killed a pedestrian or bicyclist would be called a “remorseless murderer” and might get dragged out of their vehicle to “face the music” from those who witnessed the crash.

Today people have become less emotional and more hardened to news about traffic fatalities. These violent crashes are an everyday occurrance and most of us know someone who was hurt or killed in a collision. There is a movement in recent years, however, to end the practice in the news industry of referring to a collision as an “accident.” The goal is to shake off the misconception that drivers accidentally hit pedestrians and that pedestrians are to blame for getting hit.

Traffic collisions are avoidable, they are not accidents, said Gov. Gavin Newsom has said.

The term “traffic violence” is becoming the preferred way to refer to a collision these days. In fact, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate, used this term on Twitter back in November 17th to mark International World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.

“Traffic violence kills thousands and injures even more Americans every year,” Warren said. “On World Day of Remembrance for Traffic Crash Victims, I’m sending my love to the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones. It’s time to .”

Still most journalists who report on traffic fatalities will frame the story as an accident rather than a violent crash.

Four years ago, The Associated Press advised a new editorial standard be followed by journalists that doesn’t frame a collision as an accident. By using the word “accident,” the reader is led to believe that the death wasn’t the fault of the driver. Furthermore, many journalists will also advise their readers of the affect the collision by reporting detours or heavy traffic resulting in the aftermath. These types of news stories have a negative effect on the victim by downplaying their death or injury. These types of stories have been called “windshield journalism.”

Another term used by journalists is “jaywalking.” This word obviously puts the blame for a collision on the victim or pedestrian. The sympathy for a collision may shift from the actual victim of the crash to the driver who struck them. The term first appeared in the early 1900s and referred to horse-drawn carriages driving in the wrong direction as “jay drivers.” It later morphed into “jaywalking” to refer to pedestrians who didn’t look where they were going.

Most collisions are simply not an accident, but rather are caused by an inattentive motorist, said Attorney James Johnson.

“Anytime a driver enters the roadway they are keenly aware that they will share the road with pedestrians and bicyclists, but yet they are not necessarily looking out for them when they are driving.”

Most often, drivers are traveling too fast when they strike a pedestrian or they are simply distracted or driving agressively, Johnson said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently reported that 2018 was the deadliest year for pedestrians in the United States since 1990. Overall, traffic collision deaths decreased by 2.4 percent nationwide 2017 to 2018. However, the deaths among pedestrians and bicyclists rose by 3.4% and 6.3% respectively in those years. The New York Times reported that an average of 17 pedestrians and two bicyclist died every day in collisions in 2018.

Vision Zero, a global campaign to eliminate traffic deaths, is among those using the term “traffic violence.” Five years ago, Mayor Eric Garcetti adopted the Vision Zero initiative for Los Angeles with its philosophy that traffic collisions are not accidents, but are avoidable.

However, the “traffic violence” term has not been used the local program managed by LADOT. Other California cities that have adopted the Vision Zero problem include La Mesa, San Diego, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, San Jose, Fremont, San Francisco and Sacramento.

While there may be debate in the news world about how to report on traffic violence or collisions, the fact is there are too many pedestrians dying in collisions in this country. More than 100 people die every day in the U.S. in traffic collicions.

Johnson Attorneys Group has been helping victims of traffic violence or collisions for more than a decade. We are proud, longtime supporters of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). If you were injured or your loved one was killed in a collision, we advise you to seek out legal help immediately. If you have legal questions, please do not hesitate to contact us for a free case evaluation.



James Johnson

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