Commentary: Dangerous, Impatient Driving Is Reckless Driving

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It’s a common sight in downtown San Francisco: drivers line up on a bustling street, waiting to make a turn, and one or two impatient motorists can’t seem to believe that pedestrians are crossing in front of the queue.

When the queue moves, if that driver reaches the crosswalk and then runs over a pedestrian, should he or she be able to escape the consequences of committing what is effectively assault, so long as they claim not to have seen the victim?

In the case of the paratransit van driver who ran over a man at Eddy and Leavenworth Streets in the Tenderloin this Valentine’s Day, the “I didn’t see him excuse” worked like a charm. Surveillance footage and eyewitness accounts make it plain that the driver honked impatiently then ran down the victim in a marked crosswalk, yet the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office says no criminal charges can be brought against him because he stayed at the scene and “cooperated” with police, the victim didn’t die, and law enforcement determined that he was not driving “recklessly.”

Charges of reckless driving, according to DA spokesperson Omid Talai, only apply when the driver is “in willful and wanton disregard for the safety of other people.” In this case, the victim was hospitalized and will likely suffer life-long consequences, but without a reckless driving charge, the only consequence for the perpetrator will be a single traffic citation for failing to yield — and even that ticket probably wouldn’t have happened if not for a show of outrage from pedestrian safety advocates.

If San Francisco expects to have streets where people are safe to walk without suffering debilitating injuries, then the DA should consider this driver’s actions to be reckless. It’s clear that the driver was impatient and careless enough to barrel through the intersection as though no one were nearby, even though he was behind the wheel of a multi-ton motor vehicle in a crowded downtown neighborhood that sees as much or more pedestrian crashes as any other in the city.

The walk signal was on, the sun was out, the crosswalk was marked with an especially visible design, and the victim was crossing for several seconds before the driver accelerated. The fact that he didn’t see the victim is a result of his willful recklessness, not a test to determine whether recklessness occurred.

If someone can inflict serious injuries on another person by recklessly operating a lethal machine, and get right back behind the wheel without so much as a suspended driver’s license, then our legal system is broken.


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