At the press conference held yesterday for the sentencing of Chris Bucchere, it was clear that District Attorney George Gascón’s rhetoric concerning traffic safety has evolved somewhat, toward a more accurate reflection of the dangers on city streets. In a departure from the “message to cyclists” that was his focus last month, Gascón emphasized that “traffic safety is a shared responsibility,” regardless of one’s mode of transport:
I know there are people in the community who don’t like to hear this, they like to blame one group or another. Some people will say, well, it’s only the motorists, if they were to behave differently, we would be safer. Other people will say, well if only the pedestrians would pay attention, we wouldn’t have these problems. And certainly, others would say, if only the cyclists were more courteous, we would not have as many accidents.
Regardless of the role you’re playing at that moment, whether you’re walking, you’re driving, or you’re cycling, if you’re violating the rules of the road, fatalities are foreseeable. And if they’re foreseeable, they are preventable.
On the last note, Gascón absolutely hit the mark. But he still didn’t acknowledge the reality that people operating multi-ton motor vehicles have a far greater capacity to inflict injury upon more vulnerable users of the road, and that the vast majority of pedestrians are injured by motorists.
The SFPD reported this week that 423 people were hit by drivers in the first five months of this year. Last year, the total was nearly 1,000. Yet, as we’ve reported, drivers are rarely prosecuted for killing pedestrians and bicycle riders as long as they’re sober and stay on the scene.
Even if Gascón hasn’t mentioned it in his remarks on the Bucchere case, he has shown that he understands the lack of accountability for drivers who kill. When the Center for Investigative Reporting published a Bay Area-wide analysis of fatal motorist-pedestrian crashes in April, Gascón told CIR, “If we had 700 people being shot every year, we would be jumping up and down. Reckless driving is just as bad as people using a firearm recklessly.”
Acknowledgement of that reality from law enforcement officials is necessary if victims of traffic violence are to receive equal justice. But while Gascón has touted his prosecution of Bucchere — the first person in the country to be prosecuted for felony vehicular manslaughter for striking someone with a bicycle — and highlighted the injustice suffered by Hui and his family, the DA and the SFPD continue to fail to devote the same level of attention to pedestrians and bicycle riders killed by motorists.
San Franciscans are still waiting for the DA to call for justice for Amelie Le Moullac, who was killed on her bicycle Wednesday by a big rig driver who appeared to have made an illegal right turn in front of her, as well as Dylan Mitchell and Diana Sullivan, who were killed this year under similar circumstances.
Meanwhile, the deaths of Becky Lee, Tania Madfes, Eileen Barrett, and Hector Arana — all killed by drivers while walking in San Francisco this year — all seem to be nothing more than “unfortunate accidents” in the eyes of police and the DA.
At the presser yesterday, Gascón said his insistence that all road users have responsibility for safety “may be unpopular in some corners.” But regardless of whatever straw men he’s arguing against, it’s clear that the record of prosecution against deadly driving in San Francisco comes nowhere close to representing the fact that it’s the most prevalent danger on our streets.
Until Gascón and other city officials at least acknowledge that fact, his “message” will carry no weight.
Thanks to Bryan Goebel for providing audio for this report.