I’m a pedestrian. I’ve never owned a car and didn’t even have a learner’s permit until two months ago. Yet I’ve been in at least half a dozen car accidents in my life; as a passenger and a biker. Getting hit by a car at the intersection of Battles Street and Main Street made me put my bike away for good. Fortunately, I wasn’t injured, but the experience was frightening enough that I decided not to tempt fate again.
That same intersection would prove fatal for Mike Brown, a 51-year old man who was hit and killed just minutes after midnight on New Year’s Day. The driver who left him there to die still has not been identified.
One of Hartford’s most ignominious moments was a car accident. In 2008, Angel Arce Torres was struck by a car on Park Street as he was crossing the road. The accident, and alleged indifference of those who witnessed it, made national headlines. He died a year later.
But Hartford is not alone when it comes to dangerous driving. There has been a consistent uptick in the number of people killed in car accidents across the state over the last three years. 216 people were killed in 2019. Despite the pandemic keeping many people home for most of 2020, the number of traffic-related deaths actually increased to 257. Through November of last year, that number had gone up again, to 290.
I witness drivers turning left on red and blasting through stop signs on a regular basis. Asking drivers not to text and drive is like asking the sun not to rise. Cars are important as the lifeblood of our modern transportation infrastructure, but there seems to be little appreciation that when they aren’t used properly, they become 2,000-pound guided missiles full of flammable liquid. The inevitable result is people dying, like Mike Brown.
The question then becomes how do we solve this problem? The answer seems obvious- more enforcement. Put more cops out conducting traffic stops, more red-light cameras, more tickets and court appearances. But the cure cannot be to trap people in an authoritarian surveillance state, as that comes with its own set of problems.
There are solutions that don’t require more interactions between the criminal justice system and the public. The easiest and most cost-effective change is to lower speed limits. Research from National Cooperative Highway Research Program found that the increase in speed limits from 55 to 65 MPH led to a 28% increase in traffic fatalities on highways. Increased use of speed bumps in cities also help to reduce speed and save lives. While more costly, there are several road engineering techniques which can make driving safer, ranging from backplates for traffic lights to increased use of pedestrian islands.
Ultimately though, the power to save lives rests with the individual choices of each driver. Following traffic laws, avoiding distracted driving and refraining from driving under the influence are personal decisions which thousands of people make each time they step into a vehicle. Therefore, I’m making a direct plea to them.
Please, drive carefully. The risky choices you make to arrive at your destination five minutes earlier are not worth someone’s life, including yours. The texts can wait. Thanks to ride share apps like Uber and Lyft, it’s easier than ever to go out and never get behind the wheel of a vehicle. There are people’s lives at stake. Mike Brown got ten minutes of 2022 because someone made a bad decision while driving. Do not be the person who takes someone away from their friends and family. Let’s all work together to make sure everyone gets home safely.
Jamil Ragland is a writer from the Hartford area. His work deals with politics, race and culture. Jamil lives in Hartford with his son.