“Killed by the Car” – Streetsblog New York City


Amid Mayor de Blasio’s bloodiest year of Vision Zero, Streetsblog continues its seven-part series focusing on a key strand of the movement for livable safe streets, written by a central figure in that movement, Charles Komanoff. Komanoff, a former head of Transportation Alternatives, launched a high-impact public awareness campaign 25 years ago promoting the daily bloodbath on the streets of New York City. Under the name “Right of Way”, his group brought the brutal reality of the deaths of pedestrians and cyclists to the public in the form of highly visible street actions (including an arrest). Part I last Monday opened with the first “Killed by Automobile” template in December 1996. Part II on Wednesday focused on how the movement started generating press coverage. Part III on Friday dealt with the ramifications of the movement.

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What is most astonishing today about “Killed By Automobile,” the 64-page brochure Right Of Way published more than two decades ago, is how much unfounded conventional wisdom about traffic hazards has been shaken.

Subtitled “Death in the Streets in New York City 1994-1997” and released in March 1999, “Killed By Automobile” documented and deconstructed what we saw in the mid-1990s as “the ongoing slaughter of pedestrians and cyclists on the streets of New York City ”and implicitly during a century of devotion to automobility.

KBA_front_cover _ cut off - May 19, 2021Our framing, our results – the whole endeavor – have been transgressive. No one inside or outside the government had ever collected and spotted the deaths of pedestrians and cyclists in New York or any other US city. No one had ever given full account of who was killed and who killed. Perhaps most importantly, no one had tried to find samples showing how pedestrian murders took place and who was to blame.

“Killed By Automobile” broke new ground, whether it be to determine the true dimensions of the carnage, to anatomize the windshield mindset of complicit police and state officials, or to offer an agenda for the safe design and management of our roads.

We didn’t pretend to be neutral. A look at our red-hot miniature views of four emblematic motorist deaths – by Alberta Kenney and Rachel Fruchter (see Part 2 of this series), Michael Regina and Aaron Brown (coming soon in Part 5) – made it clear where our sympathies lie. Nonetheless, every find was based directly on our meticulous data handling and the careful reconstruction of hundreds of fatal crashes.

Who is really hurt _ Table from the CC special edition from January 1988

The central finding of the book, “Drivers are to blame for most pedestrian deaths,” was read in the headline of the New York Times in our report. The headline was a long time coming. We had fought for this framing for more than a decade and even published an essay in the caustic anti-NYT zine Lies of our time denounce the incessant whitewashing of the car butcher shop by the newspaper.

“Killed By Automobile” by establishing driver negligence as a fundamental fact of traffic hazard and, on a larger and broader scale, continuing our work on deflation of moral panic over bicycles in the late 1980s, as in tables like that in direct transportation alternatives ‘ City cyclists ‘zine. “Killed By Automobile” made that undeniable, at least in New York City The endless onslaught of pedestrian injuries and deaths is primarily due to driver misconduct.

The time taken to review each case required that we limit our root cause analysis to one year, 1997, deaths. Even so, our sample, 242 pedestrians and cyclists killed, was large and the results were clear:

  • In 58 percent of those killed, the pedestrian or cyclist had a clearly defined right of way, which was clearly the driver’s fault. (See the donut diagram to the right.)KBA debt pie chart for 1997 _ 15.11.2021
  • In a further 13 percent of the cases, a driver violation contributed to the fatal collision. The combination with the previous category meant that riders were to blame for at least 71 percent of pedestrian and cyclist deaths in New York City in 1997, as the light and dark blue donut segments show.
  • There were 53 deaths, 22 percent of whom we could not determine the guilt, “either because the police report was incomplete or inconsistent,” as the Times put it, “or because there was no witness to corroborate a driver’s claim that the accident occurred “. [sic] That said, drivers were at least partially to blame in 90 percent of accidents (171 out of 189) in which pedestrians or cyclists were killed.
  • In the remaining 18 accidents, we held the pedestrian or cyclist solely responsible, which was only 7 percent of the total accidents and just under 10 percent of those for which we could assign responsibility.

“Killed By Automobile” also relied on all 947 fatal accident reports from the Department of Motor Vehicles, which corresponded to 1,020 deaths of pedestrians and cyclists from 1994 to 1997. Our many statistical insights included these intruders:

  • New Yorkers 65 and over were more than twice as likely to be killed by a driver as they were murdered. For the oldest New Yorkers, 85 and older, deaths from car murders were more than four to one.
  • Motorists killed 50 pedestrians Sidewalks during 1994-97; During the same period, only one pedestrian was killed by a bicycle on a sidewalk.
  • The number one cause of pedestrian deaths was vehicles turned into people at crosswalks; Next, the driver was driving too fast and passed a red light or a stop sign.
  • Ninety-one percent of the drivers killed were men – a disproportionate rate even when you factor in the overall overweight of male drivers, which we estimated to be 75 percent.
  • The NYPD reported moving violations to drivers in only 154 of the 1994-97 deaths, or only 16 percent of the 947 cases in our database.

(To our surprise, the dates were correct not indicate disproportionately high pedestrian death rates in low-income areas and / or color communities. Rather, the drivers appeared to be killing New Yorkers of every income level and race or ethnic group roughly in proportion to each group’s share of the total population; As we put it in “Killed By Automobile,” automobiles were equal opportunity killers, at least at the time and place covered in the report.)

As with most reports, the payoff for “Killed By Automobile” is difficult to measure. We definitely convinced the New York Times. The newspaper’s solid coverage of our March 2019 release was followed by April Walking? Beware of the Male Driver, an article that talks about the severe over-representation of men among killer drivers. It was also important to change the tone of the newspaper; The arrogant, amused attitude towards pedestrian exposure that was built into, or worse, earned, in urban life had largely disappeared.

Perhaps no one in New York has been more affected by “Killed By Automobile” than Bette Dewing, the Upper East Side activist who helped raise public opinion against bicycles in the 1980s, as mentioned in Part Two. We gave Dewing a copy, of course, and eagerly responded to her requests for more copies in the years that followed to replace those she handed to neighbors, elected officials, and the police. While Dewing never really turned into a bike pro, the anti-car speech speaks in her Our city Newspaper columns set new accents.

The double blow of our memorial stencil and our brochure “Killed By Automobile” has sidelined most anti-bike thoughts. It also seemed that Right Of Way was destined to launch new, bold campaigns for safer roads. Life had other plans.

This series will return on Wednesday with Part V. To read previous stories, start with Part I and follow the links.


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