If you’ve been reading this site for a while, you might recall the incident nearly four years ago when your humble author managed to collect a Hyundai Sonata in the B-pillar. Both I and the woman in the front passenger seat were nontrivially injured in the crash, but the months and years of pain and surgery afterwards were made considerably easier to bear by the fact that my son, who was sitting in the right rear seat, escaped injury. I cannot tell you what I would have done or how I would have felt if he had been injured or killed.
Five months ago, a woman in Albuquerque made a left-hand turn across a busy urban intersection. As she did so, her Ford Escape was struck by a police car traveling at nearly 70 miles per hour. The six-year-old boy in the right rear seat was killed.
After a comprehensive investigation, the county sheriff has recommended that no charges be filed against either the driver of the Ford Escape or the officer who struck the vehicle. Their rationale for that recommendation is easy to see and there’s no reason to Monday-morning quarterback a crash with a result this tragic. We should, however, be talking about the circumstances that made that crash not only possible but likely.
In 2012, I suggested that police cars be governed to a safe and legal speed. My concern at the time was with reckless behavior on the part of police, particularly with regards to speed enforcement. If you’ve ever been buzzed by a state trooper doing 110 mph to catch a “danger to society” who is doing 85, you’ll have an idea of why I don’t think we need those dangerous, risky interactions between police and civilian vehicles on America’s freeways.
In the case of this Albuquerque incident, however, the officer wasn’t displaying his narcissism or his addiction to personal power. Rather, he was making the maximum possible speed to respond to a situation where a “teen” was threatening employees at a grocery store with a machete. That’s the kind of situation where you’d like police to show up as quickly as possible, although here in concealed-carry-crazy Ohio I suspect anybody who waved a machete around at my local Kroger would be the recipient of more incoming ordnance than the HMS Hood within seconds.
I think that Keisean Anderson, the machete-waver in question, should have manslaughter added to his remarkably short and mild list of charges. Regardless of that fellow’s eventual disposition, however, the fact remains that police do occasionally have a need to respond quickly to violent situations. So how do you handle this? Do you make them slow down for every intersection, the way I’ve seen ambulances do in Texas and other Southwest states? Do you limit their permissible speed to a multiple of the speed limit, which in this case was 40 mph?
Furthermore, how much duty does a citizen have to look down the road before making a left turn? If the speed limit is 40 mph, should she look down just far enough to ensure that there is no 40 mph traffic heading her way? 60 mph traffic? 70 mph traffic? Why didn’t she see the lights and hear the sirens? The officer in question had both activated.
I’ve argued on this site before that passive safety, not driver training, is what truly saves lives on American roads. After reading about this incident, however, I have to wonder a bit about that. We don’t need to turn everyday drivers into Nico Rosberg or Sebastian Vettel. We just need to educate them in the proper use of vision. Keeping your eyes high and alert will make it possible for you to see things like a police car approaching nearly twice as quickly as you might expect. And it will save you from ever having to mourn the avoidable death of a child. I was almost in that situation and I can tell you from experience. There is nothing worse.
Take a moment to look around before you make a choice on the road. The life you save might not be your own. It might be more important than that.