Commentary: Reject Reckless Drivers from Leadership

It's not enough to denounce the act; one must also stigmatize and reject the perpetrators.

Damon Connolly, confessed drunk and hit & run driver back in 2019. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Damon Connolly, confessed drunk and hit & run driver back in 2019. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

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Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorp was pulled over in March for driving under the influence. He apologized for potentially embarrassing the people of Antioch.

Thorp is also a director on the Contra Costa Transportation Authority Board.

Marin County Supervisor Damon Connolly drove drunk back in 2018 and crashed over a traffic island and through a stop sign, damaging his car. He was charged with a hit and run for leaving the scene. He confessed and apologized to his family and the public. But instead of resigning, he’s now asking voters for a promotion.

Connolly serves on the Transportation Authority of Marin and on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Bike East Bay’s Dave Campbell reports (and Streetsblog confirmed independently) that during a recent Alameda County Transportation Commission meeting, board member and Piedmont Mayor Teddy Gray King called in from a cell phone while she was driving.

In the cases of Thorp and Connolly, it’s clear they apologized only because they were caught. It also seems pretty unlikely they drove dangerously just that one time. And Connolly could have hit a person instead of a sign on that traffic island for all he knew–and yet he just kept going.

It’s bad enough these people are still permitted to drive, especially Connolly, who should have gone to jail for hit and run. But all three incidents point to the warped perspective that many of the Bay Area’s transportation leaders have when it comes to motor vehicle safety.

Leaving these people on transportation boards sends a clear message: it’s fine to get drunk and then drive, as long as you apologize if caught. Even committing a hit and run is tolerated. Letting these people continue to serve says it’s okay to drive distracted; in fact, in the case of Mayor King, apparently traffic safety is a big joke.

This is all in keeping with the insipid idea, originally spread by car companies, that crashes are accidents. And if someone does get run over and dismembered, it’s their own fault for not wearing a helmet and a reflective vest, for using earbuds, or for just being on the street.

It’s exactly why I’ve always supported concrete dividers, cast-iron traffic bells, and steel bollards instead of plastic posts: roads should be designed to disable and stop the cars of reckless drivers before they kill. That would be a big step, but we can’t put bollards everywhere. And it’s not enough to denounce traffic violence; one must also stigmatize and reject the perpetrators. Reckless driving needs to come with a severe social cost.

Connolly, Thorp, and King committed crimes of varying degrees, but they and others like them have no business serving on transportation boards. If they can’t be forced to resign, their fellow lawmakers should turn their backs on them–figuratively and literally. Perpetrators of traffic violence have earned the scorn of their peers.

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