EDITOR’S NOTE: While I am in majestic St. Louis, Missouri, for the holidays, I will be posting interesting bike links and urging discussion. I’ll still be writing, but at a reduced rate. Feel free to comment on this link or treat this page like an open thread to discuss whatever is on your Seattle biking mind.
Friends of a Zachary Manago, a Hawaii teenager killed Friday while riding his bike with 30-40 others, took the hit-and-run investigation into their own hands. Manago was riding on the shoulder when he was struck from behind by a white SUV, which drove off. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Two days later, a group of his friends fanned out around neighborhoods near the site of the collision and spotted a white SUV with damage parked at a townhouse complex. They notified police, who arrested Douglas Curtis, the registered owner of the vehicle, on suspicion of negligent homicide and failure to render aid. Curtis told Hawaii News Now that he was not aware he hit anyone.
Cars are powerful weapons. Hit and runs are cowardly and disgusting. But they often work, and the people responsible are never found. If Curtis proves to be the driver, I hope the act of finding him is at least a little solace for the friends who found him.
So what can we do about hit and runs? A vulnerable user bill is a start, since it will give the government new tools to punish those that are found. But punishing someone who is captured after they hit a person biking or walking is the smallest part of the solution. The bill also needs to push us toward reimagining how our roads work.
In some countries, the road user with the heaviest vehicle is assumed liable for a collision unless proven otherwise. The reasoning being that the larger and more potentially dangerous the vehicle, the larger the responsibility and need for caution. It’s not merely the legal workings behind this “strict liability” plan I am interested in, but rather the change in mindset it represents on our roadways.
If people were to operate with the burden of their vehicle’s potential danger on their minds, perhaps they would behave differently. Giving lots of space to people biking and people walking near the roadside could become the way they drive naturally. After all, one wrong move on anyone’s part and you could seriously injure someone, or worse.
Whether you are the stereotypical road raging jackass or just a regular ol’ Joe who happens to use a car to get around, the roads can become a space of entitlement (and this problem may be getting worse in Washington). In our culture (especially in places where fewer people walk and ride like they do in Seattle), people expect the roads to only consist of other cars all obeying traffic rules as they themselves obey them (or not obey them, in the case of most speed limits). In some sad, yet not uncommon, phenomenon, people outside a windshield are transformed into beings no longer considered to be fully human.
Roads become speedways where you don’t feel the need to anticipate unusual occurrences. For example, imagine you are driving down a residential street lined on either side with parked cars. If a child ran into the street from behind one of those cars, could you stop in time? If not, you are driving too fast. Yet this “too fast” speed is our norm. It’s embedded our driving culture, and it needs to change.
Roadway deaths are senseless, and we have some tools to prevent many of them. No one wants a friend to be hurt or killed, but no one wants to be the driver, either. I wish Zachary’s friends and family the best as they mourn the loss. And I wish that everyone who hears his story drives a little more carefully with a little more respect for the burden their powerful vehicles carry.