Car-centric policy dominates our legal system and the way police conduct business. And it's not holding people truly responsible.
There are few better pedestrian spaces than the path that encircles Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis. It’s likely one of the most frequented walking paths in the upper Midwest. The tree-lined path buffers walkers, joggers, and cyclists from a small, two-lane street. It’s stunning in all four seasons.
It’s a safe space where one can escape the usually car-dominated places around the city. That’s why it was such a shock when news broke of a wayward motorist driving down the walking path and striking a jogger. The Star Tribune reported:
A large SUV drove on the pedestrian path along Lake Calhoun, hitting a woman on an afternoon jog and sending startled others jumping to safety before the vehicle eventually stopped.
The wayward driver was captured on video by a near vehicle. (Note: the video contains some NFSW language.) The jogger was thrown under the SUV and dragged for some distance before being rushed to the hospital with numerous broken bones. The police arrived soon after.
You would expect the police to pull out the handcuffs and drag the 65-year old into the back of the squad car. If you thought this, you’d be mistaken. The police determined the woman seemed fine and let her go without issuing a traffic citation, more or less criminal charges. No charges were filed and her driver’s license has not been suspended. It was just an “accident.”
As City Pages reports:
[The jogger’s] injuries left her hospitalized for more than a month, and since her release she's been wheelchair-bound. Her life has been forever changed, says her lawyer … and it doesn’t appear as if police ever investigated the incident further.
This is our car-centric society—even taking hold in a comparatively bike- and pedestrian-friendly city like Minneapolis. When in doubt, the benefit goes to the driver; as if it was a mere accident (and leaving the roadway to drive onto a lake path could not be an accident). The police failed to conduct any further investigation. This is part of the reason that Freakonomics has labeled reckless driving the “perfect crime”, implying that if you wanted to murder someone, you could run them over with a vehicle and say it was an accident.
It goes beyond not investigating something that so clearly should have been investigated. More often than not, reckless drivers do not lose their license and stay on the road. And, when a collision does occur and it’s not investigated, insurance laws can make it difficult to prove damage in a civil suit without charges and the dollar amount on damages can be capped.
This is the system we've created; one that favors drivers at nearly every level. It's unfortunate that car culture dominates our system and law enforcement so much that it doesn't hold people responsible. And until it truly does, we're not going to see as much progress as we need. Changes to laws and public mindset must happen in tandem with changes to the design of our streets. We need to reorient our understanding of transportation to value the safety and rights of pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users just as much as drivers.