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Company van with tally of people walking, biking and in wheelchairs intended as joke

Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 11.50.23 AMSix months ago, John Demaree was driving around town when he got an idea for a joke.

He was sitting in heavy traffic behind a car with one of those window stickers depicting stick figures of family members, sometimes even pets. But in this sticker, everyone was wearing Mickey Mouse ears (perhaps something like this).

He wanted to make a parody of it for the work truck of his commercial property maintenance business, Demaree Services. He also wanted a joke that comments on how, on the streets, “everybody is mad at everyone else driving around,” he said in a phone conversation.

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The result is a decal with icons of a person walking, a person biking and a person in a wheelchair with tally marks next to them: Six people on foot, two people in wheelchairs, ten people on bikes.

But not everybody finds the joke funny. Twitter user @nothe spotted the truck and posted a photo of it, writing, “what the hell is up with the pedestrian/handicapped/bike tally here?!?”

The toll of traffic violence in our society is immense. Far too many people, both inside and outside cars, are killed or seriously injured on our roads every day. It’s hard to find someone who has not had a friend or family member killed or injured in a traffic collision. People walking, biking and with mobility issues are particularly vulnerable, and make up a disproportionate number of roadway deaths.

For many of those who have lost friends and family members to traffic violence (sometimes due to collisions with work trucks), it simply is not a joking matter.

I asked Demaree if he thought the sticker might offend people.

“Everybody that’s seen it thinks its kind of funny,” he said. “I was just trying to make a funny thing.” Though he has asked many people for their thoughts, he admitted that he has never asked someone in a wheelchair.

“I haven’t actually run over anybody, and I try really hard not to.”

Seeing the sticker and speaking with Mr. Demaree has left me with very mixed feelings. If a large company with a big media department ran with a joke like this, I would be absolutely outraged. But this is a small business owner making a joke that, unfortunately, a lot of people in our society still finds funny. Posting it on the back of their work truck is a pretty bold statement, but after speaking with John, I don’t think they actually meant to advocate violence against people not in cars.

So instead of unleashing anger at Demaree Services (though I do hope they reconsider the joke), a more important discussion is why this joke seems so acceptable to so many people. I’ve just written too many stories about people whose lives have been shattered by traffic violence to laugh it off. Cars hunting down people simply is not something I have the ability to laugh at.

But many people do.

“I get thumbs up when I’m driving down the road,” Demaree told me. “I’ve had a couple people ask if they can buy them.

“If you want to buy one, let me know.”

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19 responses to “Company van with tally of people walking, biking and in wheelchairs intended as joke”

  1. GlenBu

    Seriously?! I hope nobody from this company ever has to experience losing a loved one to traffic violence. #notfunnydemareeservices

  2. Joel S.

    From a few interactions with people (online) who wish to perpetuate this kind of joke, here’s what I’ve found: most people feel like traffic violence is an unavoidable and necessary evil, much like gravity or time. You can’t change it, and we have to live it, so you might as well joke about it. The vast majority of people don’t actually want to see traffic violence.

    Or… can you change it?

    I say yes you can. Cancer and AIDS have massive research and public outreach budgets, and because of that, you can’t put Cancer and AIDS jokes on your van without being publicly crucified. It just takes unrelenting pressure and public education to get people to understand that traffic violence is a problem that can be tackled.

    Self-driving automobiles in the next 20 years are going to be what changes public opinion on this one – so we only need to (unfortunately) wait for this to happen.

  3. “I try really hard not to” run over people doesn’t do quite as much for me as “I would *never* run over anyone.”

    I don’t think my sense of humor is lacking. More people are killed by vehicles than by guns every year in America (this includes people in other vehicles–he’s missing the all-important “car fatality” graphic). Would this be funny if it involved that type of weapon instead of this type of weapon?

    Would it be funny if it involved people of various races?

    Would it be funny if he were tallying how many women he had killed as a male driver?

    Would it be funny if he specifically listed the family members killed by a drunk driver in a Seattle neighborhood last year?

    Yeah, didn’t think so.

    If nothing else, in a city like Seattle with a lot of people who ride he’s costing himself business unnecessarily. And if this company’s drivers ever do hit anyone, this post, tweet, and picture will be introduced in evidence in both criminal and civil suits in a heartbeat. I wonder who his automobile insurance carrier is.

  4. Peri Hartman

    I can see his point of view, and among friends jokes like that might be ok. Problem is, people in general can’t know how he feels. At the very least, it’s bad taste to show that kind of humor in public. A politician would be crushed making a statement like that.

  5. Gary

    I find it more in response to those stupid stick people stickers than an intended threat. There are similar Gary Larson comics. And yes no politician would be able to do this.

    Fixing to the traffic death total is going to take more than “serious ” stuff. So some jokes in poor taste are going to come out. But it’s part of the process.

  6. Jayne

    He needs to pay for a prime time televised awareness campaign against traffic violence or have his drivers license revoked. Period.

  7. biliruben

    I think it’s a little bit funny, and it definitely makes a statement about how we perceive traffic deaths.

    I’m sure he isn’t intending to advocate for running folks over, he’s just venting over traffic frustration using easy targets.

    My main problem with it is that he is perhaps supplying tacit approval to drive a bit more aggressively around vulnerable users, which, for a small minority of the more unhinged drivers out there behind the wheel, may be all they need to “cut it a bit closer at the crosswalk” or “give that biker on the shoulder a bit of a scare”, which ends in unintended tragedy.

  8. Kirk

    I don’t see it as a commentary at all on the stupid people figure stickers. If the story didn’t explain that was the intention, I wouldn’t have guessed. I find his tallying offensive and encouraging of violence. If I encountered that in traffic or parked, I would be reaching for my Sharpie. Or at least the dry erase….

  9. RRRoubaix

    First off- he’s lying.
    Anyone who’s ever seen a WWII fighter plane knows those are “kills” and they reference damage/death done to the enemy.
    I don’t believe for a second he got the idea from looking at those dorky family graphics. That’s just a convenient made-up excuse when he got called out on this.

    This type of graphic is nothing new, but usually it’s on an anonymous car- not some moron who has his name and business emblazoned on the vehicle in question.

  10. Yorik

    This comic from xkcd is a funny take on the stick people decals.
    The sticker on the back of the van seems to be a take on the gallows-humor “joke” I remember hearing a lot back in high school about how many points different types of pedestrians are worth. I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and accept no malicious intent, but it’s still pretty childish, offensive, and irresponsible to his clients’ reputations, not to mention short on actual humor.
    That said, passing judgement on bumper stickers has got to be a pretty futile effort other than the opportunity to illustrate a societal problem of inattention to the tragedy of road violence.

    1. Yorik

      Hmm.. didn’t post the comic, which was my main goal anyways:

  11. Melinda

    I’d love to know if he has any clients in Kenmore.

    1. GlenBu

      I invite John Demaree to attend the Kenmore City Council meeting @ 6PM tonight at Kenmore City Hall (18120 68th Ave. NE, Kenmore) and explain the humor of his business vehicle to the families of the two people killed in Kenmore in crosswalks in the past week.

  12. no traffic lights

    My keys would get that sticker off there, no problem. I’m sure he has some paint he’d like to clean off the doors as well.

  13. Mark

    This is not a joke. This is a THREAT.

    Of course we all know that he didn’t intend it as a joke,
    and the drivers who see it know it is a threat not a joke,
    but even if he did, it is a threat of bodily harm or death
    to people he doesn’t like because they are different from
    him. I wish we could prosecute. At least he will lose
    business because of it.

  14. cyclist&driver

    A) Its funny because its absurd. Nobody actually wants to hit anybody else on the road. And, its true, everybody is angry at everybody else for no good reason. That sucks.
    B) At least its not below a “Hows my driving” sticker.

    1. Booth

      Nobody wants to hit anybody? Read up on the Erika Soerensen story.

  15. Ashley K

    Wow, some people on here are absolutely terrible. Wishing they could prosecute? Make him loose his business?

    John is actually my dads neighbor, and I’ve hung out with his kids and have seen what a nice father and model citizen he is. All these other commenters don’t have half the brain of John, nor did they score as high on the BAR exam, nor did they practice law, nor do they have the balls to start their own business.

    The goal with the stick figures is simply to get people to think, be aware. And from the looks of it, most of the authors and commenters on this blog don’t think very much… to much exhaust from biking around I guess.

    1. Joel S.

      Some people are actively working to make biking and walking less like a violent war. These kill marks are directly an allusion to war and therefore have a psychological effect. Don’t get mad if some people take offense.

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