It's time to put an end to traffic terrorism

accident not terror
Screen capture What's the difference?

It really is bad enough that people in cars already get most of the space on our roads for moving and storage, but they often don’t even have the courtesy to stay there and instead keep killing people on sidewalks and in buildings. As Brad Aaron noted in Streetsblog after his accurate headline Driver Hits Multiple People on Times Square Sidewalk: 1 Dead, 22 Injured

As horrific as today’s crash was, it is not unusual for drivers to maim and kill people on NYC sidewalks. Before today, NYC drivers had killed no fewer than 49 people on sidewalks and in buildings since 2012.


Everyone is so relieved that the recent act of traffic violence in Times Square was not caused by a terrorist, but in fact, it was, just a different kind. Pedestrians and cyclists are terrorized every day by people in big metal boxes.


I mean really, what is the difference, other than we spend trillions to try and stop one and almost nothing to stop the other.

Paul Steely White makes a few great points in the Daily News, headline: Reckless driving, deadlier than terror, about the inability of cities to deal with this problem.

..despite this historic pattern of innocent pedestrians mowed down by drivers making deadly or sociopathic choices, and scores more throughout the rest of the city, many reporters, elected officials and first responders referred to yesterday’s tragedy — and countless others — as “accidents.”

It’s not an accident. It’s traffic terrorism. It’s putting a lot of fragile human bodies in close proximity with heavy dangerous machinery, most of which (the SUVs and pickup trucks) are completely unregulated when it comes to design features that might protect the people they hit, heavy machinery that is operated by people who do not have the training, skill or attention span to actually do it safely. And as they note on Rebel Metropolis, Headline: Should City Driving Be Considered Terrorism?

Most collisions happen when drivers are only momentarily distracted, while perfectly sober and alert. But you can have eyes on the road and hands upon the wheel and still wreck someone’s life. The reason for this is simple: we simply do not have the evolutionary ability to make consistent life or death decisions while moving faster than the human body can run. We can’t even make eye contact with anyone outside a car traveling faster than 20 mph.

Paul Steely White reminds us again that this is a fundamental design problem, not dissimilar from the one cities faced 150 years ago.

Just as we do not debate the merit of using modern infrastructure to separate our sewage and water to prevent cholera, we should not argue over the merit of proven, lifesaving design and enforcement.

That means putting walking humans first. That means changing the discussion from worrying about parking and congestion to worrying about safety and encouraging walking, cycling and transit instead of driving cars.

…it is imperative that we “move beyond the mythology of the automobile.” The supremacy of motor vehicles above all other modes of transportation must be challenged. We must make difficult decisions about what we value. Are a few parking spaces worth more than a human life?


Traffic terrorism is both physical and emotional. First you have to ensure that drivers are not held responsible, that it is an “accident” that couldn’t be avoided.

woman killed headlineMetro News/Screen capture

Then, you have penalties that reflect the seriousness of the incident, which make the point that it is not a very serious thing at all, because these things happen. So when a woman in Toronto drives her Mercedes SUV over the sidewalk and kills a woman running a booth is a street market, the penalty is a thousand bucks and a six month driving ban with exceptions for “work, medical appointments and emergencies.”

distracted walking poster© University of Regina School of Nursing

Then you have to blame the victim for texting, for not wearing the right clothes, wearing headphones or not carrying a flashlight at night, walking and talking at the same time, and causing the problem in the first place.

Enough. It’s time to get serious about Vision Zero, to end traffic terrorism both emotional and physical, and to prioritize people on foot, bike and transit. And where there is no room for cars, lets just ban them.

Tags: Cities | Urban Life | Urban Planning

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