It’s No Accident

What if news articles of shootings, stabbings and other deaths used
the same language normally employed to describe traffic collisions?
Today on the Streetsblog Network, David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington
points to media coverage of a crash in Culpeper County, VA, as an
example of our tendency to view traffic violence as an immutable force
of nature.

No
news story ever began saying, "A person was killed yesterday when he
collided with a bullet moving at high speed in the opposite direction."
Yet that’s exactly how news stories about traffic "accidents" often
begin.

Our habit of dehumanizing the actions of cars tends to
create assumptions that their actions are not actually someone’s
responsibility. A driver hit and killed some people in another car in
Culpeper. It’s extremely unlikely his car magically malfunctioned. And
even if it did, we don’t engage in the same linguistic contortions to
say, for example, that a police officer’s bullet impacted a suspected
robber, who had himself been holding a gun which fired into someone
else earlier in the day. That would be silly. So is this.

Elsewhere on the Network, with the MTA set to vote on drastic fare hikes and service reductions tomorrow, Second Avenue Sagas looks back at how the agency, and the region, finds itself on the brink of transit doomsday. Still, The Transport Politic notes that some in Staten Island see light rail in that borough’s future. And as Urban Milwaukee prepares for new streetcar service, Beyond DC welcomes rail to BRT pioneer Curitiba, Brazil.

  • Tom Vanderbilt (author of Traffic) discusses this use of passive voice at his “How We Drive” blog also.

  • mcas

    “…as an example of our tendency to view traffic violence as an immutable force of nature.”

    As long as roads are built for cars and personal autos can travel legally at speeds above 20 MPH, it is, basically, an immutable force. Isn’t it?