Our words and how we view the street are all oriented for the vehicle. Sidewalks were developed to get pedestrians out of the way of vehicle drivers so they could enjoy unfettered speed on the street. Mid-block pedestrian crossings are a lot safer for pedestrians because there are no vehicular driver turning movements, but are less convenient for car drivers which have to stop mid-block. Instead pedestrians cross at corners where there are lots of vehicular drivers turning as well. When it is helpful to the car driving lobby, we treat vulnerable street users, those not encased in a steel cage, like vehicles.
That has transpired in language too where we have car accidents instead of crashes, and we talk about cars making right turns and crashing into hapless pedestrians instead of describing it as the inattention, speed or behaviour of the vehicle driver. It was Dr. Ian Pike, Director of the BC Injury Research and Prevention Unit at the excellent B.C. Vision Zero Summit who provided a media briefing on the fact we just have to start labelling pedestrian crashes as the deadly catastrophes they actually are.
And that means making our media use of terms accountable too. Last week The Vancouver Sun stepped right into it with a headline proclaiming “Elderly woman dies in Point Grey after being struck by a vehicle”.
What? Who defines elderly? And does that make it better that she died because the writer decided to list the victim that way? This was a 73 year old lady that was walking at the 10th Avenue and Sasamat signalized intersection with pedestrian markings that was mowed down by a inattentive driver at 5:00 p.m.
It was a clear day, it was sunny, there were no excuses.
The Vancouver Sun article then goes on that the critically injured victim was dead at arrival at the hospital and that the driver of the vehicle “remained at the scene and is co-operating with police”.
Seriously? The driver is doing what is required as per the law.
It again is written in a way for us all to say, well good, the driver stopped in case the woman was not dead. We don’t hear that a well loved family member expected home did not make it for dinner, what the impact was on her family, or on her friends and relatives. And we don’t dwell on the fact that it was a useless, preventable death caused by driver inattention, driver speed, or driver error because the driver was “co-operating”.
The Vancouver Sun’s reporting language is not good enough. It is not up to any journalist to define what “elderly” is, or try to make readers think that the perception of being “old” makes this sixth pedestrian fatality this year in Vancouver a good justifiable death.
As Mari Jo DiLonardo wrote in TreeHugger a new study in Finland compared the physical and cognitive abilities of people aged 75 to 80 with those of the same age thirty years ago. What the study found was that in people aged 75 to 80 today, “muscle strength, walking speed, reaction speed, verbal fluency, reasoning, and working memory, are all significantly better than they were in people born three decades earlier when they were the same age.”
The age of 73 is not necessarily “elderly”. And age should never be used as an excuse to make a death by being crashed into by a vehicle more palatable. It is not.
In Great Britain the draft Road Collision Reporting Guidelines have been produced by the Active Travel Academy to assist journalists and others to stop contributing to “a culture that dehumanises those injured and killed on the roads, and perpetuates an acceptance of road danger, and of careless and dangerous driving.”
You can take a look at those draft guidelines here. Let’s ensure that the responsibility for road danger rests with vehicular drivers.
Vancouver’s sixth pedestrian fatality in 2020 was a needless, avoidable death. This is where the story should be.
Images AARP, SandyJames