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You're free to mow down pedestrians in Prince William

In Prince William County, apparently it's completely legal to kill any pedestrian, anytime, if they are in the road but not in a crosswalk. All you have to do is not drive away afterward and be sober.

Image from Google Street View near the spot of the crash.

This morning, a pickup truck driver and possibly also the driver of another box truck hit and killed a man crossing Virginia Route 234 near US-1 in Dumfries.

We don't know all the details. Did the man suddenly run out in front of the truck, or was he crossing at a place where there is poor visibility? It's early in the morning, so maybe the sun was in his eyes. Maybe the pickup truck driver couldn't have avoided the crash.

Or, perhaps it's a clear stretch, and the driver was just speeding up to try to make the light, or on his phone, or trying to eat a breakfast sandwich at the same time.

But at least from the article, it doesn't appear that Prince William County police care. Spokesperson Jonathan Perok simply told Potomac Local, "Since the victim crossed where there is no cross walk, the fault of the death lies with the pedestrian."

Whenever we write about pedestrian safety, some commenters accuse us of being absolutist, of believe it's always the driver's fault. It's not. Sometimes it's the driver's fault, sometimes the pedestrian's.

But local police are the ones who are usually absolutist. Lt. Craig Royal, head of the MPD crash unit, told the DC Pedestrian Advisory Council that in pedestrian crashes, in his experience the pedestrian has always done something wrong. Even if that's usually correct, that attitude means that police aren't really going to try to decide. They'll just assume it's the pedestrian's fault.

After all, the pedestrian is dead. The driver isn't. Identifying fault requires an investigation which is a lot of work. And if they do blame even one driver one time, they'll probably catch a bunch of political flak from all the drivers who don't want to be afraid they might face charges if they hit someone.

There's political support for arresting drunk drivers and hit-and-run drivers, so the police do that. Or at least they do sometimes; at other times, it's still too much work. Drivers who simply aren't paying attention face no risk at all.

Pedestrians have a responsibility to act safely. But drivers also have a responsibility to be taking reasonable care not to kill people. The police at least owe it to everyone to conduct an investigation and avoid coming to a hasty conclusion simply because the pedestrian isn't in the very limited spaces that have been allocated to them. In many suburban areas, there are simply not enough crosswalks in places people need to cross.

Meanwhile, if you find yourself in Prince William County and see someone you don't like walking on a street outside a crosswalk, hit the accelerator. You can rub them out and the police will give you an instant free pass. Memo to professional hit men: there's a huge business opportunity here.

But seriously, please don't kill anyone. If you are driving, please keep in mind that pedestrians might be where you don't expect them. If you're on foot, take extra care. The police aren't interested in protecting you.

Update: TBD On Foot has more. Apparently this is a common spot for people to cross on foot, but there's still no crosswalk. A witness said he was shocked the driver didn't see the pedestrian.

Four miles away, a driver hit a pedestrian who was in a crosswalk; police told TBD that driver will face charges.

Update 2: Via @TBDCommute, Potomac Local reports that there was another crash at the same commuter lot on Tuesday. The victim, a U.S. Airman, tried to file a report later in the day, but police wouldn't take it. Perok said, "A report is not required if a crash happens in a parking lot." The victim's wife commented, "I guess pedestrians don't have the right of way in Virginia."

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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While I might have omitted that second to last paragraph, I really like the stance you take in this piece, particularly when you point out that investigations are hard work. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

You say
The police at least owe it to everyone to conduct an investigation and avoid coming to a hasty conclusion simply because the pedestrian isn't in the very limited spaces that have been allocated to them.

I might also say, "simply because the pedestrian is not alive anymore to contest the driver's version of events."

Whenever we write about pedestrian safety, some commenters accuse us of being absolutist, of believe it's always the driver's fault. It's not. Sometimes it's the driver's fault, sometimes the pedestrian's.

This veers uncomfortably close to equating driver awareness with pedestrian awareness. There really is no equating the two. There's just no substitute for driver awareness.

by Jazzy on Oct 15, 2010 12:12 pm • linkreport

Simple, police know there is no DA in the land that would take this case unless they driver was drunk, high or left the scene. I am sure there is someone with a criminal justice degree can break it down for us.

by RJ on Oct 15, 2010 12:14 pm • linkreport

Because we "don't know all the details", you should've waited before you wrote an article with the opening tone you have (plus the 2nd-to-last paragraph that Jazzy already mentioned).

I'm *NOT* condoning the killing of pedestrians. Not one iota. But your writing what is arguably an inflammatory piece is not helping the situation any.

by Froggie on Oct 15, 2010 12:17 pm • linkreport

Wow, the hyperbole in here is just too much sometimes.

by Lou on Oct 15, 2010 12:20 pm • linkreport

Froggie: We're never going to know all the details. I've been watching crash reporting for years, and there's almost never a followup article on what the police determined. That's because most of the time they don't bother to find out all the details, since they've already come to a conclusion.

I waited until the police reached a conclusion about fault. They have. I'm criticizing them based on the information that was already known at the time they reached their conclusion.

If they said, we don't know yet, we're going to avoid making a statement until we do (which is what they do in the case of other crimes), that would have been fine. But case closed.

Also, if I waited until all the details of a crash were known before writing about it, I'd never write about a crash.

by David Alpert on Oct 15, 2010 12:21 pm • linkreport

I'm usually for the stances posted on this blog, but sarcastically encouraging people to run down their worst enemies or marks is right ridiculous. I know this is terrible, but this will cause a massive flame war down the line somewhere.

by Mike on Oct 15, 2010 12:23 pm • linkreport

Perok's quote is what makes this a story, and potentially worthy of the tone. It's worth demanding more details about just how exactly absolute he is with that statement.

by BeyondDC on Oct 15, 2010 12:24 pm • linkreport

Dead men speak no words

by aaa on Oct 15, 2010 12:35 pm • linkreport

The level of hyperbole in this post makes it impossible to take seriously.

But hey - it will no doubt get lots of eyeballs.

by Fritz on Oct 15, 2010 12:53 pm • linkreport

I totally agree with this post.

Nobody should be allowed to scare, harass, terrorize, injure, maim, or kill anybody else, unless in self-defense -- that's it -- simple.

Drivers shouldn't be allowed to do it to bikers and pedestrians -- bikers shouldn't be able to do it to pedestrians -- etc.

And it doesn't have to be intentional -- we just can't allow it to happen, even if you thought it was OK to treat the streets as your own personal playground.

We need strict liability laws.

New York just passed Hayley and Diego's Law -- it's a good start.

by Peter Smith on Oct 15, 2010 12:57 pm • linkreport

everyone saying there is hyperbole in the article please quote what statments you think are hyperbole.

by Tina on Oct 15, 2010 12:59 pm • linkreport

Meh, the law is the law. Pedestrians ought to know what the laws are. Lobby for a change in the law if you wish, but otherwise I don't see the point of all this poutrage.

by MPC on Oct 15, 2010 1:04 pm • linkreport

I realize there's a world of difference between criminal and civil matters, but what I continue to find astonishing is that the consequences for a driver who crashes into and kills a pedestrian seem far less severe--in this case, nothing--than the what the consequences would be if the driver crashed into another vehicle instead of a pedestrian. If a driver crashes into and damages another vehicle, at the very least his/her insurance rates rise, and has to pay at least the deductible on his/her insurance.

And this is the case even if the driver of the vehicle into which he or she crashed was doing something wrong, like coming to a stop in the middle of the road. When it comes to avoiding crashes with other vehicles, drivers are expected to pay attention and always be prepared to stop. A driver who rear-ends another vehicle is almost always at fault.

by thm on Oct 15, 2010 1:05 pm • linkreport

Is it really the law that drivers are not required to take any care as long as a pedestrian is not in a crosswalk? Any readers want to find the appropriate sections of Virginia law?

by David Alpert on Oct 15, 2010 1:05 pm • linkreport

@mpc Lobby for a change in the law if you wish
...this is the purpose of this blog...

see the links Peter Smith provided for suggested changes

by Tina on Oct 15, 2010 1:10 pm • linkreport

§ 46.2-924. Drivers to stop for pedestrians; installation of certain signs; penalty.

A. The driver of any vehicle on a highway shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian crossing such highway:

1. At any clearly marked crosswalk, whether at mid-block or at the end of any block;

2. At any regular pedestrian crossing included in the prolongation of the lateral boundary lines of the adjacent sidewalk at the end of a block;

3. At any intersection when the driver is approaching on a highway or street where the legal maximum speed does not exceed 35 miles per hour.

B. Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection A of this section, at intersections or crosswalks where the movement of traffic is being regulated by law-enforcement officers or traffic control devices, the driver shall yield according to the direction of the law-enforcement officer or device.

No pedestrian shall enter or cross an intersection in disregard of approaching traffic.

The drivers of vehicles entering, crossing, or turning at intersections shall change their course, slow down, or stop if necessary to permit pedestrians to cross such intersections safely and expeditiously.

Pedestrians crossing highways at intersections shall at all times have the right-of-way over vehicles making turns into the highways being crossed by the pedestrians.

Sorry, but the pedestrian deserved to die. Ignorance of the law is never accepted as a justifiable excuse.

by MPC on Oct 15, 2010 1:12 pm • linkreport

Saying he deserved to die is quite wrong. But he was at fault, if that's State law.

by Mike on Oct 15, 2010 1:14 pm • linkreport

On the legal end I can't offer too much input as I'm not nearly as familiar with VA law as I am with MD. But to dabble on the crosswalk element...

As I perhaps too often reiterate: safety doesn't come from simply adding crosswalk markings, and owing to the multithreat scenario: on high-speed multilane arterials, such a treatment can actually make things worse.

Per my lengthy input on the Gaithersburg post (here & here), from the photo this appears to be another situation of a pedestrian demand growing up around what has, through decades of growth & design, been car-oriented. Slap-on treatments have minimal effect as compared to a more complete overhaul realised through a greater planning process.

by Bossi on Oct 15, 2010 1:14 pm • linkreport

In Maryland, a police training for bike (maybe ped) investigation will be prepared by MDOT as a result of legally incorrect statements made by the state police following many cycling fatalities.

Why would we know the pedstrian is at fault just for not being in a crosswalk? Was there a crosswalk nearby? Relevant code section:

§ 46.2-923. How and where pedestrians to cross highways.

When crossing highways, pedestrians shall not carelessly or maliciously interfere with the orderly passage of vehicles. They shall cross, wherever possible, only at intersections or marked crosswalks. Where intersections contain no marked crosswalks, pedestrians shall not be guilty of negligence as a matter of law for crossing at any such intersection or between intersections when crossing by the most direct route.

The governing body of any town or city or the governing body of a county authorized by law to regulate traffic may by ordinance permit pedestrians to cross an intersection diagonally when all traffic entering the intersection has been halted by lights, other traffic control devices, or by a law-enforcement officer.

by Jim Titus on Oct 15, 2010 1:15 pm • linkreport

Sorry, but the pedestrian deserved to die.

Tough Guy Alert!

here's a link to the full law, most of which is quoted above.

unfortunately, the people who wrote VA laws probably felt the same way as this @MPC character does.

by Peter Smith on Oct 15, 2010 1:17 pm • linkreport

If MPC's citation is the controlling one and there's no other section of the code that also applies (I'm checking but haven't found one yet), then there's no hyperbole at all to this article.

by David Alpert on Oct 15, 2010 1:19 pm • linkreport

I meant to emphasize

Where intersections contain no marked crosswalks, pedestrians shall not be guilty of negligence as a matter of law for crossing at any such intersection or between intersections when crossing by the most direct route.

Hence we would need some additional facts such as evidence that he disregarded the traffic (rather than the traffic disregarded him) or that there was a crosswalk very close by.

by Jim Titus on Oct 15, 2010 1:21 pm • linkreport

How about this one:

§ 46.2-852. Reckless driving; general rule.

Irrespective of the maximum speeds permitted by law, any person who drives a vehicle on any highway recklessly or at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person shall be guilty of reckless driving.

§ 46.2-868. Reckless driving; penalties.

B. Every person convicted of reckless driving under the provisions of this article who, when he committed the offense, (i) was driving without a valid operator's license due to a suspension or revocation for a moving violation and, (ii) as the sole and proximate result of his reckless driving, caused the death of another, is guilty of a Class 6 felony.

This is probably not how it was intended, but you could read these to say that killing anyone while driving is a) reckless and thus b) a felony. That's probably too overboard the other way (it should depend on whether the driver could/should have been able to avoid the crash).

by David Alpert on Oct 15, 2010 1:22 pm • linkreport

Wow. If MPC thinks jaywalkers deserve to die, I'd love to hear what he thinks of speeders and red light runners. Are those death-worthy offenses too?

by BeyondDC on Oct 15, 2010 1:23 pm • linkreport

@DavidA: "there's no hyperbole at all to this article".

Have you looked at the title of the article?

Even if in some bizarro world, the title isn't viewed as hyperbole, it's clearly negated by the last sentence of the update.

by Fritz on Oct 15, 2010 1:27 pm • linkreport

David: I'll be the first to agree that we may never know all the details (however, that you never know all the details for ANY crash is outright wrong, in my experience). And there's nothing wrong with constructive criticism. But I don't see comments like "you're free to mow down pedestrians..." as constructive criticism. That's more along the lines of destructive criticism...arguably inflammatory. And detracts from the type of discussion and action that needs to happen after incidents like this.

BDC: I agree that Perok's comment makes this a story. But I disagree that it makes the tone worthy.

MPC: the pedestrian DOESN'T deserve to die. That he apparently made a mistake and paid for it with his life is done and gone. But that doesn't mean he deserved it (especially if the rumors of a 2nd, "hit-and-run", truck are true).

by Froggie on Oct 15, 2010 1:28 pm • linkreport

The question is, did the driver break any law, or not?

If so, the police are being derelict in their duty.

If not, then the title is not hyperbolic because you REALLY ARE free to mow down pedestrians outside crosswalks.

Fritz: The other incident was in a crosswalk. Perok is saying that pedestrians have no protection whatsoever to being killed if they're outside crosswalks. MPC thinks Perok is right.

by David Alpert on Oct 15, 2010 1:32 pm • linkreport

I love that some folks are more upset with the tone of this post than the fact that an innocent person was run down.

[Someone died, I get it...but I need someone to pick up my garbage, stat!]

And, uh, the dead person is dead -- it's their family/significant other/children/siblings/parents/friends/coworkers who are now suffering, and will probably suffer directly and indirectly for the rest of their lives.

Gotta love anonymous comments.

by Peter Smith on Oct 15, 2010 1:33 pm • linkreport

@Fritz, ok the title is hyperbolic. But that's not the story body. If the title had a footnote that clarified "under certain circumstances" it would no longer be hyperbolic.

by Tina on Oct 15, 2010 1:35 pm • linkreport

David is just stating the truth in the title and the post, there is no hyperbole. You really can kill someone with an automobile (so long as you stop and are sober) and get away with it completely. Its the same situation across the US. As a result, you really have to wonder why we have so much gun violence in the US.

by poncho on Oct 15, 2010 1:36 pm • linkreport

Saying the pedestrian deserved to die is ridiculous. Saying you're free to mow down pedestrians in Prince William is equally ridiculous.

by jcm on Oct 15, 2010 1:38 pm • linkreport

jcm: I agree. It was pretty ridiculous for Perok to say that.

by David Alpert on Oct 15, 2010 1:39 pm • linkreport

@jcm -but if I drove out there today, to this same spot, and hit and killed someone w/ my car I would experience no legal consequences. So its not a ridiculous description of what happened/what will happen, the reality of the event. Whats ridiculous is that it is the reality. Thus, laws need to be changed.

by Tina on Oct 15, 2010 1:42 pm • linkreport

@ David Alpert He didn't say that. You did. You wrote an inflammatory post with an inflammatory title based on a single sentence quote in a news article. You don't know the circumstances of the crash, you don't know the conclusion of the investigation. Why don't you FOIA the crash investigation and find out what actually happened?

The headline isn't even accurate, for Pete's sake, since they are charging another driver for mowing down a pedestrian.

by jcm on Oct 15, 2010 1:51 pm • linkreport

There are two separate fields of legal inquiry:

1. Did the driver commit a crime?
2. Who was at fault?

@David Alpert. We don't yet have any evidence that the driver was driving recklessly, so I would not fault the police for failure to assert that the driver was reckless (though one would hope for at least an open mind on that question).

@Those blaming the pedestrian. I would fault the police for assigning blame to the pedestrian given the statutory scheme, unless the police have additional facts that I do not know about.

by Jim Titus on Oct 15, 2010 1:52 pm • linkreport

@ Tina I think the law as written is fine. Peds should cross at intersections or marked crosswalks. The change I was is for the police to do a better job of enforcing the existing law (cars yield for pedestrians at crossings), and the DOTs did a better job of ensuring a safe crossing exists.

by jcm on Oct 15, 2010 1:54 pm • linkreport

Good lord people, I don't know how "You are free to run down a pedestrian" isn't hyperbole. If you aim your car at another person with intent to do harm and/or kill and the struck person dies, it is murder regardless of traffic regulations. If you do not intend to kill that person, it is an accident and then fault/penalties can be assigned as per the law. It is crazy to say you "REALLY ARE free to mow down pedestrians outside of crosswalks." Our system of law is built upon intent - Common now...

by Local on Oct 15, 2010 1:56 pm • linkreport

It seems rather irrelevant here whether the pedestrian was breaking the law. The death penalty can only be given by a court of law, not by random citizens. If that were the case, I'm gonna be doing target practice near a road where cars speed (i.e. any road). Yeah, sorry officer, I shot the car when I missed my target, but hey the driver was speeding....

by Jasper on Oct 15, 2010 1:59 pm • linkreport

@DavidA: That's not even a good attempt at defending your blatant hyperbole.

Your title says "You're free to mow down pedestrians in Prince William".


Not "if they're not in crosswalks".

Simply "You're free to mow down pedestrians".

Your own update points out either error or hyperbole (your pick on which you want to call it) of the headline, since clearly a person is not "free to mow down pedestrians" if they're being arrested for an incident where a driver struck a pedestrian.

Like I said, it's really not possible to take any of the arguments of this post seriously when it's clearly meant to be inflammatory and hyperbolic. That's not how rational adults have serious conversations.

But it's a great way to get attention and eyeballs on a webpage.

Wake me when someone proposes some actual, reasonable changes to Virginia law that you find deficient (and no, strict liability is not a reasonable solution since it would cause car insurance rates to skyrocket, which only the most radical of anti-car ideologues would support (oddly, it would also mean any non-government owned bus would become incredibly expensive to own and operate)).

by Fritz on Oct 15, 2010 2:03 pm • linkreport


Good lord people, I don't know how "You are free to run down a pedestrian" isn't hyperbole. If you aim your car at another person with intent to do harm and/or kill and the struck person dies, it is murder regardless of traffic regulations. If you do not intend to kill that person, it is an accident and then fault/penalties can be assigned as per the law.

That's all well and good, but intent's irrelevant. There's never going to be an investigation. Want to kill someone with impunity? Find 'em crossing the street and run 'em down.

The idea that there's some practical difference between "you're free to run down pedestrians" and "you're free to run down pedestrians, so long as there's no malice in your heart" is ridiculous. The police aren't interested in such fine distinctions. The mental contortions required to rationalize this crap just get more and more involved.

by oboe on Oct 15, 2010 2:12 pm • linkreport

Meanwhile, if you find yourself in Prince William County and see someone you don't like walking on a street outside a crosswalk, hit the accelerator. You can rub them out and the police will give you an instant free pass. Memo to professional hit men: there's a huge business opportunity here.

As Local said, this is a total mischaracterization. It's all about "intent" you see. Sure you *can* kill someone with impunity, and no there'll be no investigation whatsoever, but if you do it, he doesn't say exactly how the authorities will determine that or handle it differently...

But make no mistake, it's *totally* different. Somehow...

by oboe on Oct 15, 2010 2:19 pm • linkreport

The obvious possible improvements in the law would be

1. The end (or at least evisceration) of contributory negligence doctrine, so that the party at greater fault pays rather than the case being dismissed when the dead pedesrian or cyclist did anything wrong even if the driver committed the greater wrong. The jury should decide who had the greater fault, rather than there being no claim as a matter of law, at least where someone in plane view is killed but heirs are denied recovery for minor violations like not walking in a crosswalk or not riding a bike as far to the right as practicable.

2. Creation of a crime of negligent homicide (which would be a modern-day successor to the common law crime of mis-demeanor manslaughter) with a maximum sentence on the order of 1 year. We need to have a middle ground between manslaughter and no crime.

--or at least removal of the relatively minor

by Jim Titus on Oct 15, 2010 2:20 pm • linkreport

Contrary to those who wish to kill the thread, I am finding the discussion on whether or not hyperbole is used to be extremely interesting and yes challenging.

by Jazzy on Oct 15, 2010 2:39 pm • linkreport


What's up with your country supporting Geert Wilders? I thought you guys were progressive, liberal, and open-minded...


For once the rule of law is upheld and not the rule of the mob/internet/blogosphere. Drivers cannot and should not be held liable for the wrong actions of pedestrian/biking fundamentalists who think they are entitled to waltz anywhere they want on the road.

Honestly, this is up there in the Darwin Award category. You waltz into a highway and you're likely not going to like the result.

If anything, her death was YOUR guy's fault because of all your pedestro/biking 'empowerment' that you perform you. You give all local bikers and walkers the idea that they OWN the streets. Well, someone called you on your bluff, and now you have blood on your hands.

And it looks like a nerve in Alpert has been touched now that he's realized that normal people really couldn't care less about this sorta stuff. This will be page 6 metro section tomorrow and nothing will come of it. Your numbers are too small and insignificant to make a real difference in the real world, that is, outside of your taxpayer-supported city. Say hi to the 4% AIDS rate for me.

by MPC on Oct 15, 2010 2:46 pm • linkreport

@ Jim Titus I don't know about Virginia, but DC has exactly the negligent homicide law you're requesting.

§ 50-2203.01. Negligent homicide
Any person who, by the operation of any vehicle in a careless, reckless, or negligent manner, but not wilfully or wantonly, shall cause the death of another, including a pedestrian in a marked crosswalk, or unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, shall be guilty of a felony, and shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than 5 years or by a fine of not more than $5,000 or both.

If Virginia doesn't have something similar, then I agree, they should. I alos agree that contributory negligence is a poor standard. It's interesting to me that other than DC, MD, and VA only two other states use it. I wonder has hung around in our region only?

by jcm on Oct 15, 2010 2:47 pm • linkreport

Moreover, to misunderstand or misapply the phrase [social darwinism, survival of the fittest] to simply mean "survival of those who are better equipped for surviving" is rhetorical tautology. What Darwin meant was "better adapted for immediate, local environment" by differential preservation of organisms that are better adapted to live in changing environments. The concept is not tautological as it contains an independent criterion of fitness.

by Jazzy on Oct 15, 2010 2:59 pm • linkreport


Just to reiterate what Fritz said, let's concentrate on "actual reasonable changes to Virginia law". Obviously, anything that results in a marginal increase in the cost of operating a personal motor vehicle is a non-starter, as is anything that might make driving imperceptibly less convenient.

Ban foot traffic outside of shopping malls?

by oboe on Oct 15, 2010 3:02 pm • linkreport

@oboe: If you'd bother to read my comment in like a reasonable adult, maybe you could offer some serious thoughts on the issue.

But hey! It's far more fun to be sanctimonious than serious!

by Fritz on Oct 15, 2010 3:08 pm • linkreport

@ oboe I guess you're just being a smartass? Jim's changes seem both reasonable and sensible, and shouldn't have any effect on the cost of operating a vehicle.

Fritz was saying strict liability would be a bad choice, and I agree. I believe Jim was suggesting the rule should be comparative negligence, which seems much more sensible. Of course, I'm not a lawyer, so my understanding of these concepts comes from Wikipedia, and may be entirely wrong.

by jcm on Oct 15, 2010 3:14 pm • linkreport

@ oboe I guess you're just being a smartass? Jim's changes seem both reasonable and sensible, and shouldn't have any effect on the cost of operating a vehicle.

Yes, I was being a smartass. My point was that any change will be met with implacable opposition, and the killer argument will be that the increase in insurance rates will be intolerable. As it always is.

"Given the current economic climate ... we're just trying to open the public's eyes to the potential costs," said Jennifer Cohen, the federation's executive director. "Comparative negligence is always going to create increasing pressure on insurance rates."


As I said, non-starter. The right to operate a personal vehicle is the most singular human right we have in America. *Any* measure taken to protect pedestrians will have a cost--in dollars, in time. And that cost will be paid by drivers. Your average American commuter already sees themselves as history's greatest victim. You can't ask them to give any more.

I'm just glad I live in DC.

by oboe on Oct 15, 2010 3:29 pm • linkreport

Adding my two cents: Don't know about VA or MD, but DC also has one version of a "strict liability"/vulnerable user law -- DC Code 7-1004 provides, "The driver of a vehicle in the District of Columbia approaching a blind pedestrian who is carrying a cane predominantly white or metallic in color (with or without a red tip) or a deaf pedestrian, either of whom is using a dog guide shall take all necessary precautions to avoid injury to such blind or deaf pedestrian, and any driver who fails to take such precautions shall be liable in damages for any injury caused such pedestrian." So, blind or deaf peds who meet this description *always* have the right of way, regardless of whether they are in a crosswalk. And any time a driver is approaching someone with a cane or dog, same driver had better be driving slowly and carefully enough to be able to figure out whether the person is blind or deaf before hitting them. The merits of this provision could be debated, and I've got no idea how/if it's ever applied by MPD, but it is what it is and it hasn't been repealed. At the very least, it means the contributory negligence standard can't be applied in a civil lawsuit between the ped and driver.

I think David's point about going out to VA in order to kill someone with a car is only hyperbolic to the extent he may have forgotten to add that the killer would need to lie about their intent.

by Eileen on Oct 15, 2010 3:34 pm • linkreport

I'm not shocked that Prince William has created yet another class of illegal people who can be killed with impunity. It's what they do best.

And MPC, I'm sure you think you're performing a fine internet service, but you're just not as good at it as rfjason or weev or the myriad proprietors of "Meghan Had It Coming" or, well, anyone on /b/, really - so just give it up unless you're willing to start with genocidal rhetoric or alienating your own parents like a troll that has actual balls.

by J.D. Hammond on Oct 15, 2010 3:43 pm • linkreport

@ oboe I hate to be the one to break it to you, but we have contributory negligence in DC, too. Except, apparently, when the ped is blind, as Eileen pointed out. Only Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and DC have it, so clearly changing the standard is hardly an insurmountable problem. In fact, it seems like a great cause for GGW to get behind, assuming he's still capable of turning down the temperature of his rhetoric.

by jcm on Oct 15, 2010 3:44 pm • linkreport


I've been here a lot longer than you have, and I consistently put together some of the more coherent arguments, even if they're usually against the popular current on here.

by MPC on Oct 15, 2010 3:49 pm • linkreport

We live within a mile of this. There is no reason to cross there unless you want to risk life and limb, especially during morning rush hour. You can walk to the light at Route 1 and 234 and cross there. It is a couple of blocks down, but it is the safe and legal way to do this. There are between 4 and 6 lanes of traffic where this man crossed. There is an overpass as well as the on and off ramps to I-95. It is already a traffic nightmare and it would be ridiculous to put additional lights in an area that is not meant for pedestrian traffic. You can't run safely across a high traffic area in downtown and D.C. either. There are plenty of traffic lights here in this suburban area: try driving it before you write an article. My deepest sympathy for that poor man, his family AND to the poor driver who hit someone that decided to dash across a highway when it was dark during rush hour. I'm sure the driver will live with that for the rest of his or her life. The entire incident is a tragedy.

by Renee on Oct 15, 2010 3:59 pm • linkreport

From 46.2-924:
2. At any regular pedestrian crossing included in the prolongation of the lateral boundary lines of the adjacent sidewalk at the end of a block;

3. At any intersection when the driver is approaching on a highway or street where the legal maximum speed does not exceed 35 miles per hour.

So from the above, would it be correct to say that if a pedestrian is crossing a street with a speed limit above 35, at an intersection BUT where the intersecting street does not have a sidewalk, then there is not even an implied crosswalk at the intersection, at least not in VA?

by rextrex on Oct 15, 2010 4:01 pm • linkreport

it seems like a great cause for GGW to get behind, assuming he's still capable of turning down the temperature of his rhetoric.

I agree with this, and think it has a good chance of passing--in DC. In Virginia, not a chance for the reasons I gave.

by oboe on Oct 15, 2010 4:03 pm • linkreport

I consistently put together some of the more coherent arguments...

We'll file this one with Lance's: "We talked about road funding here, and *everyone* agreed it was fully covered by the gas tax."

(Sorry Lance, couldn't resist...)


by oboe on Oct 15, 2010 4:05 pm • linkreport

Rextrex, this wasn't an intersection.

by Renee on Oct 15, 2010 4:06 pm • linkreport

@Eileen. Thanks for that provision, which to me is an example of how we might eviscerate the doctrine of contributory negligence. (In Maryland, failure to wear a bike helmet can not be contributory negligence by statute). A few modifications of the bike and ped codes could either remove more situations from the reach of contributory negligence, or at least ensure that the "last chance rule" (which already trumps contributory negligence) is always in play so that the jury decides whether the driver had a final chance to avoid the accident.

I see two reasons to work for eviscerating the doctrine of contributory negligence rather than having it repealed. First, the committee that handles the bill will be a committee with a greater interest in the substance of the problem than in the grand legal traditions of the state.

Second, the doctrine is not always as bad as it is in the case of a large vehicle hitting a bike or pedestrian. Maybe when two cars hit eachother, that doctrine is not as bad because even though it is somewhat unfair, no one is inherently at a disadvantage and it does save the costs of lawyers trying to prove who was most to blame when both parties were to blame. (That is, maybe drivers as a class prefer the lower insurance rates.)

And maybe when I skate into CVS and slip on the water from a child's sippy cup spilled 15 minutes ago, I really should have no claim against the store. (Which is probably why NJ stores never let me skate while DC and MD stores often do.) Or at least changing the law to give me a possible claim is less important.

The bikes and peds are probably a very small fraction of the contributory negligence cases, so insurance companies may just let it go (especially if they expect it to deflate the push for a wholesale reform). Yet that is where it is most unfair--and most inefficient as well. With no consequences, the driver has less incentive to be careful to avoid running into a bike or ped who seems to be a bit out of place; by contrast the driver does have a clear incentive not to collide with a car that strayed over a while line or ran a red light. Not that drivers are all heartless, but a substantial fraction of drivers pass bikes and peds with less clearance than they pass cars, though the consequences of a collision are greater.

by Jim Titus on Oct 15, 2010 4:21 pm • linkreport

@ Renee
I understand this incident wasnt an intersection. But based on the statute quoted above, it seems that in general Va law gives no right of way to pedestrians in the scenario I described. I'm wondering if someone can clarify that.

by rextrex on Oct 15, 2010 4:35 pm • linkreport

@Renee, would you be more sympathetic to someone trying to cross directly w/o going four blocks out of his way if you knew he had an arthritic hip that made walking very painful?

Under what circumstances does the pedestrian trying to cross directly generate sympathy over the sympathy for a driver who is inconvenienced by having to accommodate the pedestrian by 1)continually looking at the road ahead and 2)stopping or slowing down to avoid hitting the person once he is spotted?

by Tina on Oct 15, 2010 5:13 pm • linkreport

I can't believe the utter lack of personal responsibility people on this blog take. Let me guess. Mommy and Daddy taught you that you were perfect and never to blame. It was always someone elses fault.

At the end of the day, no one is responsible for your own safety except for you! So look both ways before you cross the street, and for gods sake, don't walk into the middle of road!

Is it really that difficult to comprehend?

by on Oct 15, 2010 5:28 pm • linkreport

@beatbox -the man killed met with the ultimate consequence of his judgement, whatever his motivations for that decision were. However, the driver, according to the police, will not be burdended with any legal consequence; the crash had nothing at all to do with any responsibility on the part of the driver. Maybe thats what you meant by being taught you that you were perfect and never to blame. It was always someone elses fault.?

Of course a pedestrian must watch out for himself. So the burden is all on the pedestrian? A driver has no responsibility to prevent crashes?

What do you think a drivers responsibilities are to prevent crashes?

by Tina on Oct 15, 2010 5:37 pm • linkreport

My snide comment (sorry about that) was toward commenters who feel that pedestrians have no responsibility for their actions.

As for drivers, their responsibility is to stay aware, follow the speed limit and the laws. Even if a driver does this, however, pedestrians can get killed if they don't follow the rules.

If you want to drastically reduce your chances of getting hit..stay out of the road.

I am just thinking about this because the other day a woman's child was killed when she was crossing a street. Many tried to blame the driver, the lack of sidewalks, the speed limit etc. But at the end of the day, it was a woman who choose to put her child in danger by not waiting for the light to turn green before she crossed.

by beatbox on Oct 15, 2010 5:53 pm • linkreport

The desire to balance out drivers' responsibilities with pedestrians' is a cop-out. Pedestrians do not contribute to the chaos on the road. They are victimized by it. To say the two groups' responsibilities are equal is to argue in bad faith.

The point of the Dutch video was to stress that due to the drivers being in possession of a dangerous machine that they are pointing all around and directing through the streets, they have an added burden to be on the lookout for unpredictable behavior.

Again, a pedestrian can be as aware and cautious as possible, but all it takes is one out of control driver, or even semi out of control and that's it. But the reverse is far less often the case.

by Jazzy on Oct 15, 2010 6:17 pm • linkreport

@Renee - You may live near the collision area, but you clearly don't pay attention. There is no crosswalk at any part of the intersection of 234 and Route 1. In fact, VDOT plans associated with the expansion of the 234 lot include a signal and crosswalk exactly where this collision took place. So clearly state traffic engineers don't agree with you.

by nevermindtheend on Oct 15, 2010 6:28 pm • linkreport

I drive often. Too often. Each time I drive multiple times I see drivers taking chances with crashes by speeding, tailgating, talking on the phone, passing inappropriately, making close cuts, speeding to make green lights in an area known to have many and often unpredictable pedetrians (Rt.1 in College Park) etc. etc.

Most drivers don't drive responsibly -in a way that could prevent crashes rather than in a way that increases chances of crashes- regardless of what pedestrians are doing. Why should the drivers who hit and kill pedestrians be automatically assumed to not be behaving like everyone else-irresponsibly? Why isn't it as likely that a driver acting irresponsibly contributed to a crash as much as a pedestrian acting irresponsibly? Well, it is as likely. Its just not widely acknowledged.

And that child who was killed b/c the mom crossed w/o a green light -what if the bus was coming and the next one was wasn't scheduled for 50 minutes, and it was raining and there was no shelter at the busstop. Would her decision to cross under those circumstances make you more sympathetic to her decision and her loss?

What circumstances are needed to make pedestrians' seemingly poor judgements more sympathetic than drivers' everyday occurrance of poor judgement in risk taking that increases chances of crashes? Why is all the risk taking bad judgement among drivers that I see when I'm driving accepted as par but bad moves on the part of pedestrians -no matter what the circumstances leading to those decisions-villified? I never distrust other people as much as when I'm driving among them. I hate driving for this reason. Drivers make the road unsafe for other drivers and for me when I'm driving. Of course they are responsible for making it unsafe for non-drivers too. Why isn't this translated when a driver hits a non-driver? Its like "oh, he (driver) was looking for a song on his ipod, and going 10 miles over the speed limit -that's just what drivers do" so these bad judgements are dismissed, but if a pedestrain makes a bad judgement-too bad! "You know drivers don't give a shit about you or your circumstances trying to cross an inhospitable road. Your bad judgement is the sole problem."

by Tina on Oct 15, 2010 6:37 pm • linkreport

Jazzy: are you suggesting that pedestrians don't have responsibilities as well? Because that's the tone I'm getting from your 6:17pm post.

by Froggie on Oct 15, 2010 6:46 pm • linkreport

@ Jazzy I agree with you and with your first comment. I'm asking questions to try and find out what the thinking is among people who don't think drivers have any responsibility-or who don't see that resposnible (or irresponsible) behavior among drivers is far more consequential than that of pedestrians. There's no way someone who thinks a pedestrian "had it coming/bears all fault" because she crossed w/o a light is going to suddenly change his perspective. Some middle ground must be found. I'm looking for that in acknowledgement that "yes, drivers have a responsibility to not take chances that increase crashes at the very least with other drivers". And then trying to introduce the notion that people crossing the street are more than objects in your way when you're driving. They may have what seem to them very good reasons for taking what sems to you as a driver as really stupid risk. That is, some empathy for other human beings whose shoes you haven't walked in (literally). Maybe it won't happen (change in perspective, inkling of sympathy) for most people unless they have been pedestrians for extended time periods and can start to imagine why someone would cross "here and now" instead of what "i" think is most prudent.

by Tina on Oct 15, 2010 6:49 pm • linkreport

Right now I am in a city other than DC. Downtown, there are pedestrians - much fewer than in DC - and of course cars. I pretty much am not a pedestrian here, and drive just about everywhere.

In this city where I am, I cannot believe the amount of crossing against the light, crossing in the middle of the street, dashing across at the last second. Every single race, class, gender of people does this. It's across the board. This town makes Washington look like it runs like clockwork, and really yall should not be complaining about pedestrians!

What does this mean? This means precisely that if I don't sit up and pay attention, 100% strict attention, and prize these people's lives, then someone is gonna get hurt, and as far as I am concerned, it is going to be my fault. Therefore I drive incredibly slow. I don't give mean looks to the pedestrians, though of course I often want to. I am here temporarily, I have other battles.

I have adjusted to their behavior.

Large-scale odd pedestrian behavior is NOT a call to make them reform necessarily, but a call to me and to others as drivers to watch out for them.

by Jazzy on Oct 15, 2010 7:00 pm • linkreport

Obviously, anything that results in a marginal increase in the cost of operating a personal motor vehicle is a non-starter

uh, you mean like often-rising fuel prices? i guess someone had better take care of that 'anything'.

i comprehend the "that will never happen (here/now)" argument -- it just rarely makes any sense, and certainly not in this case.

driving a car will continue to get more and more expensive, in proportion to everything else, for the foreseeable future. it will have a lot to do with public policy decisions, like increasing gas taxes, and the implementation of market-rate parking policies, congestion pricing, carbon pricing, etc., and there will be a nice national/international volatility index and some other niceties, too -- and less and less support for motoring-only policies, in general. Fun times ahead for drivers, baby!

but you should realize that 'people who drive' are 'people who are forced to drive' -- they're one and the same. but that's changing, slowly but surely. if people have a viable option to walk or bike, they will. that's where walk/bike infrastructure comes in -- if you give people a viable way to get around under their own power, their collective reaction to increased driving costs/fees becomes one of 'meh' -- it's just not that big a deal -- so, ideally, we build out the walk/bike infrastructure first, but in reality, both processes will be going on at the same time.

My point was that any change will be met with implacable opposition

that's the way it usually works when you try to change something. water wet, sky blue, etc.

the question, then, is does the implacable opposition have a strong enough point, and/or can they garner enough support, to keep things from changing for the better?

the only way to find out is to...try to change things for the better.

As I said, non-starter.

some industry group runs some ads, so some policy is a 'non-starter'?

what else was a 'non-starter'?
* Civil Rights
* Women's Rights
* Obamacare
* Bike lanes on Pennsylvania Ave
* Haley and Diego's Law
* etc.

The right to operate a personal vehicle is the most singular human right we have in America.

they've already taken away most folks' ability to get around with at least one type of personal vehicle -- the bicycle -- but that's changing, slowly but surely, thankfully. and by taking away what is really the only viable personal vehicle option for many people, they're stripped these people of their human right to be able to travel freely, in safety/comfort/convenience -- but this is changing, slowly but surely.

nobody has a right to get around by motor car unless that's the only way to get around in safety, comfort, and convenience. there will continue to be fewer and fewer people dependent on motor cars, at least per capita/percentage-wise, in the future. at some point, i believe we'll actually hit our 'max cars in America' number, too. manufacturers are going to have to continue to add trinkets to cars to try to boost profits on flat sales.

and as these baby boomers retire, and they can no longer drive, or just don't want to drive, expect an extra bump in walking/biking advocacy from people with real power. it'll be nice to have them working with us for a change.

*Any* measure taken to protect pedestrians will have a cost--in dollars, in time.

and here i thought all the evidence pointed to traffic safety saving society bajillions of dollars, saving individuals thousands of dollars in direct and indirect costs, and at least that much amount in time. i guess all those fancy-pants researchers really have no idea what they're talking about.

And that cost will be paid by drivers.

Drivers do need to pay a lot more to drive. I'm a driver now, and I'd have no problem paying 10 or 20 times as much to drive -- gas is about $3.00++ in California -- it needs to be in the $30-$60 range. More than being welcome, though, it's necessary.

Your average American commuter already sees themselves as history's greatest victim.

Rich people are good at thinking of themselves as victims. What makes the paradox doubly-troubling, though, is that poor people are _not_ good at thinking of themselves as victims. Talk about a double tragedy.

You can't ask them to give any more.

We can. We have. We will. And they will pay it. And they will be happy and thankful for the continued opportunity to drive.

by Peter Smith on Oct 15, 2010 7:19 pm • linkreport

> In Prince William County, apparently it's
> completely legal to kill any pedestrian, anytime,
> if they are in the road but not in a crosswalk.

Also in DC. Remember the architect who was crossing the street in Cleveland Park during a rainstorm when a lady drove a sport-utility truck over him. He was notable enough to get an obituary in the Washington Post. The paper said no charges were brought against the truck driver.

By the way, what became of the lady who snagged her car on a bicyclist, dragged the corpse a few miles, and later claimed it was a deer?

by Turnip on Oct 15, 2010 8:12 pm • linkreport

I'm not sure who is at fault here, but I travel to the 234 commuter lot every day (by car) and the area right in front of the lot is very dangerous, whether you are in a car or on foot. I would never attempt to cross the street there because it's so crazy. I hope something good comes out of this tragedy. If something doesn't change with the current traffic pattern, mark my words there will be more deaths.

by 234 Commuter on Oct 15, 2010 8:32 pm • linkreport

@Peter Smith:
We can. We have. We will. And they will pay it.

Yeah, right... and then the next election will wipe the elected officials who "made them pay for it" out of office. Not gonna happen.

by mch on Oct 15, 2010 8:56 pm • linkreport

@Dave Alpert et al.

Here is a bit more on manslaughter in Virginia from Tubman v. Commonwealth, Va: Court of Appeals 1986

"The Virginia Supreme Court has upheld involuntary manslaughter convictions in Albert v. Commonwealth, (1943) (defendant was drunk, drove his truck upon a bridge, ran over the decedent in daylight when there was ample room for the truck to pass in safety); Zirkle v. Commonwealth, (1949) (defendant, under the influence of intoxicants, zigzagged or swayed across the center of the road to the wrong side of the road); Richardson v. Commonwealth, 192 (1951) (defendant, driving a tractor-trailer unit, attempted to pass another similar unit, drove onto the far left-hand shoulder of the highway and struck a pedestrian, walking with his back to the defendant); Fadely v. Commonwealth, (1967) (defendant was drinking, rounding curve at excessive speed, lost control and ran off the highway); Beck v. Commonwealth, (1975) (defendant driving under influence of intoxicants, failed to see three men on his left and four on his right, and left the scene of the accident); Delawder v. Commonwealth, (1973) (defendant racing at eighty to one hundred miles per hour); Mayo v. Commonwealth, 218 (1977) (defendant, within one city block and starting from a stop, attained a speed of twice the posted limit, and continued to accelerate until the accident).

Convictions of involuntary manaslaughter have been reversed by the Supreme Court in the following instances: Jenkins v. Commonwealth, (1979) (defendant driving southbound down the middle of an unmarked road with lights on low beam, saw a pedestrian in northbound lane ahead and applied brakes but hit the victim); King v. Commonwealth, (1977) (inadvertent failure to turn on white headlights, rather than amber running lights in violation of statute); Lewis v. Commonwealth, (1971) (defendant, who ran over a pedestrian at an intersection, failed to keep a proper lookout, but no evidence of speeding, drinking or recklessness)."

That court went on to reverse the conviction of a driver who pulled out in front of an oncoming motorcycle who he did not see because there were some bushes in the median and he was more focused on crossing Rt 3 before a truck in the distance got there. A later case (Forbes 1998) reversed the conviction of a diabetic who occasionally blacked out without warning and in one instance rammed a car waiting at a stop sign.

In Maryland it's about the same. Convictions involved being drunk, driving 80-85 mph on Georgia Avenue, or falling asleep and killing someone after having already fallen asleep a few times and continuing to drive after travel compansions begged him to let them drive.

by Jim Titus on Oct 15, 2010 10:18 pm • linkreport

@JimTitus Also, interestingly, DC law provides that not wearing a bicycle helmet isn't contributory negligence in the case of a child younger than 16 (DC Code 50-1606). DC law also provides that neither compliance with nor violation of laws on child safety seats or seat belts is contributory negligence (50-1707 and 50-1807). There are some other exceptions to contributory negligence as well, but they don't involve drivers, bicyclists or walkers. Your idea about "eviscerating" it is interesting. So how do we go about it? (Also thanks for the info on VA court decisions. I don't spend a whole lot of time out in VA and can't say those make me anxious to go out there.)

@Oboe I know you were "kidding" about driving as a right, but thought you might appreciate this, from a decision by the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit (based out in Chicago) last year on the question of whether driving is a "major life activity" for purposes of the ADA -- Winsley v. Cook County Hospital, 563 F.3d 598:

"The ADA defines a disability as 'a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.' 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2). The only potential impairment supported by the evidence is Ms. Winsley's claim that she had difficulty driving. Although this court has reserved judgment on whether driving is a major life activity, . . . three other circuits have held that it is not. See Kellogg v. Energy Safety Servs. Inc., 544 F.3d 1121, 1126 (10th Cir.2008); Chenoweth v. Hillsborough County, 250 F.3d 1328, 1329-30 (11th Cir. 2001); Colwell v. Suffolk County Police Dep't., 158 F.3d 635, 643 (2d Cir.1998).

"Today we agree with our sister circuits and hold that driving is not, in itself, a major life activity. The version of the ADA applicable to Ms. Winsley's action, see note 1, supra, does not define the term 'major life activity,' but an EEOC regulation states that 'Major Life Activities means functions such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.' 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(i).[footnote omitted] Although this list does not purport to be exclusive, the items on the list have several things in common with each other that driving does not share with them. Most importantly, the listed activities are so important to everyday life that almost anyone would consider himself limited in a material way if he could not perform them. This is not the case with driving. In fact, many Americans choose not to drive and do not consider the quality of their lives to have been diminished by their choice. Moreover, the importance of the listed activities does not vary depending on where a person lives. The value that people assign to being able to drive, on the other hand, most certainly does. A great number of Manhattanites drive only rarely, while residents of more sparsely populated areas of our country rely heavily on their own automobiles for transportation. Finally, unlike the listed activities, no one has a right to drive; driving on public highways is a privilege subject to revocation for a number of reasons. As the Eleventh Circuit has noted, '[i]t would at the least be an oddity that a major life activity should require a license from the state, revocable for a variety of reasons including failure to insure.' Chenoweth, 250 F.3d at 1329."

by Eileen on Oct 16, 2010 12:41 am • linkreport

@tina Sorry tina, your made up conditions of the woman crossing the street hold no water. i dont care how long the wait is. Her self absorbtion put her ch8ld at risl.

Just the other day at Union Station i exited the circulator and some young mother running with a stroller couldnt be bothered to break her stride ran across the front of a bus. Like i said, there is no excuse and your attempts to blamr others dusplays an incredible degree of narcisism (sorry about the typos)

by blogo on Oct 16, 2010 10:56 am • linkreport

I'm surprised how no one here actually knows the law. Peter Smith got it absolutely backwards: MD and VA are two out of I think three states which *have* strict liability, and that's the source of all these ridiculous outcomes.

Strict liability means that if you cross outside of the crosswalk, you're breaking the law and - unless the driver is breaking the law as well - whatever happens, you're responsible. There's nothing more the police could have done, they have to follow the law.

There are complications where the victim gets hit and thrown outside of the crosswalk so it's harder to ascertain who was at fault, but generally it's the pedestrian. At least in the DC area.

To fix it, you need either shared liability or revisions of the code that controls pedestrian crossings, neither of which are big priorities.

by greg on Oct 16, 2010 12:02 pm • linkreport

@ MPC: What's up with your country supporting Geert Wilders? I thought you guys were progressive, liberal, and open-minded...

What's up with your country supporting Sharon Angle, Christine O'Donnell, rich Iott, Sarah Palin, Jim DeMint, George Bush and Dick Cheney? I thought you guys were progressive, liberal, and open-minded...

So we have a Tea Party as well and utterly incompetent labor party leadership. What's the big deal? We're exactly like the US for that matter. The difference is that the leader of our Tea Party actually voted for gay marriage when he was still with the liberal party (liberal being right wing in the NL). And we have a Tea Party that supports decent end-of-life legislation (aka Death Panels), normal abortion rights and separation of church and state. Get back to me when you guys have that too.

By the way, if you like partying in Dutch coffeeshops, be quick, because the new government will restrict coffeeshops to Dutch citizens.

by Jasper on Oct 16, 2010 12:17 pm • linkreport

Well apparently in DC you can kill people who throw bricks through you window and not be charged with murder, and in the UK you can beat the crap out of train passengers and not face jail time.

I'd strongly suggest that accidental deaths on roads are not suitable groups for imprisonment. What, exactly, does this mob think the appropriate penalty to be? Loss of driving privileges? Fine? Public whipping?

by charlie on Oct 16, 2010 1:30 pm • linkreport

@blogo How do you know that the mother walked into the crosswalk because of self absorption? I haven't seen any news articles that blamed her actions on self absorpton and, as far as I can tell, there haven't been any interviews with her asking her what happened. The most extensive article that I've found is from the Gazette ( and it describes what happened like this: "The mother, 36-year-old Samira Kailey of the 2800 block of Wilson School Court in Sinking Spring, Pa., was crossing from south to north on Georgia Avenue near Aspen Hill Road and had successfully crossed the southbound lanes when the stroller was struck in the northbound lanes at 10:22 a.m., police said. According to police, the mother and child did not have the right of way when crossing the intersection. There was a solid red signal for the left lanes, while the through lanes had a green light." Having looked at that intersection on Google Streetview, I doubt that self-absorption by the mother played a big role -- confusion may have, and certainly auto-centric absorption by the people who designed that intersection did. You can put yourself in her shoes at that intersection (click on the link in the TBD post -- -- and then click on the little "A" icon and then click on "street view"). What I see when I do that is that there is no pedestrian signal on that side of the intersection and the signal for drivers wouldn't have been visible to me if I was standing on the median (not that there is much of a median there). So, it's entirely possible that she started crossing the southbound lanes when she saw the traffic signal was "green" (you can't see it from the median, but you can see it from where you would begin crossing Georgia), got to the median, and concluded that it was safe to continue because the drivers in the left turn lane of the northbound lanes were stopped. She may have made a mistake, but it was an understandable one and not the result of self-absorption. You could stand there all day and still not know when it was "safe" to go.

I realize I'm speculating, but I think my speculations are at least based upon looking at the available information and trying to understand what happened, rather than automatically blaming the mother for self-absorption just because the police found her at fault (mistakenly in my view, but that's an argument for another day). And this isn't to say that there aren't self-absorbed pedestrians...just this week I saw three people at different times dart across Wisconsin Avenue. Turned out when I looked more closely that they were all only pedestrians for a few minutes, because they were darting across the street to get to their cars, but what was clear to me was that their self-absorption could have gotten them killed when they were pedestrians, and could lead to their killing others when they got in their cars.

by Eileen on Oct 16, 2010 1:51 pm • linkreport

She crossed against the lights with her child.

by blogo on Oct 16, 2010 1:59 pm • linkreport

I feel like the argumentation is being held hostage by some drivers who want those wanting stricter enforcement to never stop admitting that pedestrians can be stupid or self-absorbed.

That does nothing. Nothing.

Eileen, if and when there is more development in the struck baby case, please let us know. It's frustrating that there is a lack of details.

by Jazzy on Oct 16, 2010 3:06 pm • linkreport

I suspect that if any of the morons posting that it's somehow OK not to investigate or hold accountable a driver who mows down a pedestrian (MPC, I'm looking at you) were to read a similar article about killings of, say, tax cheats or -- since we're talking about PW County, where it's such a hot-button issue -- illegal immigrants, it might dawn on them that one ought to at least investigate a killing before condemning the victim and pronouncing him deserving of death. Then, maybe it wouldn't.

RJ's excuse (that "no DA would take the case") also evinces an all too common misunderstanding of the legal system by someone who's learned just enough with their "criminal justice" degree to be a cynic, but not enough to know better. No, RJ, a DA wouldn't want to prosecute the case if the police had not investigated. Without an investigation, there wouldn't be much evidence. If, on the other hand, police were to investigate (you know, that thing they're paid to do), then perhaps a DA would prosecute the case. And any DA who turns down prosecution of a wrongful killing merely because he or she thinks the odds are against winning is a coward. Most DAs thankfully aren't cowards.

by pmp888 on Oct 16, 2010 5:58 pm • linkreport

@Eileen. Thanks for your additional examples. Regarding what to do next, I am only engaged seriously in Maryland and have been remiss in not yet reaching out to those working on the problem in DC. I think there is a need for bike-ped contributory negligence study group, at least for Maryland and possibly accross jurisdictions.

Prospects for total reform seem greater in DC. I believe that Mary Cheh's staff is looking into a possible bill, and Mendelsen told us that he is open to considering ending the doctrine for cyclists. The institutional limitations that confront Maryland may not be applicable to DC, so I would not discourage the frontal assault that seems to be building there.

For Maryland, we probably have 2-3 sponsors once we have a good bill--but we don't have a bill yet. There are several options that range from something along the lines of the maximum duty of care for the blind statute you first mentioned, to strengthening the duties of automobile drivers before and after the bike/ped is negligent, to limiting what can be contributory negligence. One of the potential sponsors seems more sympathetic to strengthening the last chance rule than repealing contributory negligence for cyclists. A study group is needed to evaluate both the legal impact of whatever is drafted and some intel with the Rules Committee.

I am guessing that you are in DC but if interested in being part of a strategy team please let me know. I am viewing this as a project for the 2012 legislative session because volunteers are unlikely to have a really good bill drafted in time for this year, and everyone seems more inclined to push the negligent homicide bill this time. (I know nothing about reform efforts in Virginia.)

by Jim Titus on Oct 16, 2010 6:38 pm • linkreport

If you don't agree with the title of Dave Alpert's article, I encourage you to try walking around Prince William county. Try crossing the street, on a crosswalk. The pedestrian killed on the 15th at Waterway and Edgewood was no doubt on a crosswalk. This experience will totally change your attitude, believe me.

by Pam on Oct 16, 2010 7:19 pm • linkreport

@Pam The pedestrian hit at Waterway and Edgewood was killed, too?!

I agree 100% about being a pedestrian in Prince William County. It is very, very dangerous. Everything is built to get cars through the county as quickly as possible, with little thought given to any other form of transportation.

by nevermindtheend on Oct 16, 2010 7:46 pm • linkreport

@Pam Do you have an article you can link to about the Waterway & Edgewood collision? Last I heard the pedestrian was taken away with non life threatening injuries.

by nevermindtheend on Oct 16, 2010 7:55 pm • linkreport

In case nobody noticed, according to WTOP, the location where this guy got killed (apparently between the McD's on 234 and the exit to the commuter lot) is already in the middle of getting a traffic signal.

by Froggie on Oct 16, 2010 9:02 pm • linkreport

Connecticut likewise assumes the pedestrian is at fault if not in a legal crosswalk, and the DOT spokesperson is quick to put the blame at pedestrians even when crosswalks are few and far between. This contrasts with Massachusetts, who assumes that pedestrians ALWAYS have the right of way (except on highways).

by Amanda on Oct 16, 2010 9:22 pm • linkreport

I own a local business and see pedestrians ignoring the rules of the road as much as drivers do. I'm sorry if it sounds insensitive but whether a driver or a pedestrian, I have no sympathy if consequences come crashing down upon someone who voluntarily decides to disrespect rules, the law and other people.

We are creating a society of people who behave as if the world revolves around them, and in all matters of life they have the 'right of way.' Entitlement mentality is getting people hurt or even killed and that's just the universe's natural way of restoring balance.

Any legislation or proposal to provide any kind of protection for people who act carelessly that ends up taking money out of the pockets of those who don't, in my mind, serves only to enable poor behavior.

Of course, I'm only talking about places where signs and markers are clearly labeled. I'm sure we can all agree there are opportunities in many locations to improve signage or add separate walkways.

by More Customers on Oct 17, 2010 4:00 am • linkreport

I have no sympathy if consequences come crashing down upon someone who voluntarily decides to disrespect rules, the law and other people.


-- Slave-owners circa 1810, Men circa 1920, Drivers circa 2010

by Peter Smith on Oct 17, 2010 4:11 am • linkreport

I have no sympathy if consequences come crashing down upon someone who voluntarily decides to disrespect rules, the law and other people.

@More Customers. In case Peter Smith's irony was too subtle, the problem under existing law is that the consequences of illegal behavior fall unequally under existing rules. The reckless but sober driver who kills a ped does not go to jail, so the consequences of killing do not come crashing down on that driver, but only on the ped's family. And in 5 few states like MD, VA, and DC, the driver does not have to pay damages if the ped did anything wrong related to the accident, no matter how aggregious the driver's conduct relative to the ped's.

by Jim Titus on Oct 17, 2010 9:04 am • linkreport

There is a third player in these crashes in addition to the people on foot and the people driving the cars. Eileen touched on it. It's the people who designed the roads with few if any pedestrian amenities and in such a way as to encourage drivers to put the pedal to the metal.

Froggie tells us the place where this fatality occurred is scheduled to receive a retrofitted pedestrian amenity.

With changes like this hopefully it will not only improve conditions for ped's in terms of infrastructure amenities but also improve the environment by causing drivers to slow down and be aware they aren't the only ones using the road -and finally -make it apparent to lawmakers that this "no-fault" for drivers in crashes with peds needs to be changed. 99/100 times one may experience no bad outcome when speeding, driving distractedly, taking a chance in lane changing, etc., but that person must be held accountable for his/her behavior no matter what anyone else is doing or not doing when a bad outcome does occur.

by Tina on Oct 17, 2010 10:57 am • linkreport

A few more to reach the century mark. Alpert, what's the record?

by MPC on Oct 17, 2010 12:18 pm • linkreport

The record is 201 on this post. This post isn't yet even in the top 20; in fact, it's not yet even the most commented post from last week, which was the one about transit expansion.

by David Alpert on Oct 17, 2010 12:25 pm • linkreport

Peter Smith got it absolutely backwards

I guess it depends on what your definition of 'strict liability' is. I don't know what the exact legal terms here in the US, or in various states will be, but strict liability, to me, means -- if you injure/kill someone, you're liable.

That's it.

Typically, the victim will be a more-vulnerable road user. The more formal definition is something like: If you injure/kill someone, you are liable (at least financially), by default, unless you can prove some very high degree (read: an almost-always-insurmountable level) of negligence/suicide on the part of the injured/deceased.

If it turns out that some city/state somewhere here in the US has some type of 'strict liability' code, then it's obviously not strict enough, and/or we need new/better laws that say something like, "Hey, uh, like don't kill people and stuff, or something, or else you'll pay and go to jail and stuff, or something."

There is a third player in these crashes in addition to the people on foot and the people driving the cars.

without being too melodramatic or tit-for-tat, there are myriad losers in these types of crashes. i already mentioned family (including children, parents, etc.) and friends and significant others of the deceased, who are the folks who will suffer most (as they're still alive). But there are significant financial costs not just for all those people directly involved, but socialized costs that we all pay for -- which is why some towns are starting to charge for being involved in crashes. The cost of traffic congestion, the source of which is often car crashes, is astronomical, they say. And there's the whole 'touchy-feely' stuff -- the degradation of our humanity, society/values, social cohesiveness/community capital, etc.

Bring on teh Socialisms!

by Peter Smith on Oct 17, 2010 5:13 pm • linkreport

@Peter Smith: that's not what strict liability means. it means if you're doing something illegal, you are completely responsible for what happens.

What you're describing makes absolutely no sense in a court of law that has to account for intent as well as consequence of actions. Laws dictate the acceptability of actions, police document consequences of actions, and courts ascertain the context and intent of the law breaker.

In what you describe, if a doctor examined a patient and that patient later died, the doctor would be liable for the death. There are very good reasons why we have divisions between "accidental death", "manslaughter", and "homicide" (denoting no intention for harm, non-premeditated intent, and premeditated intent).

You're arguing that there is no such thing as an accident. An unsafe intersection is just what it says it is. If the driver is held liable through no fault of their own, you've just ruined two lives unnecessarily. Not to mention completely avoided the actual problem: the intersection.

by greg on Oct 17, 2010 5:37 pm • linkreport

The two of you may be thinking about roughly two different issues.

Strict liability means that one is liable for the results regardless of fault. (In the case of civil lawsuits, it has little to do with whether you violated a criminal law, that would be negligence per se or reckless per se.)

The basic policy justification for strict liability is often that an activity is so dangerous that the decision to engage in it exposes you to the subsequent consequences, whether you later do anything wrong or not. For example, if you legally ignite dynamite in a city to bring down a building, strict liability means you are liable for damages to other buildings even if you do nothing negligent. I think that the circus is liable for injuries caused by escaped lions as well, even if the circus did nothing wrong. Product liability is another example of strict liability--no need to prove that the can of tuna was negligently made, if it made you sick the tuna company is liable.

In the criminal law, strict liability means no need to prove intent. Statutory rape is the classic case--it doesn't matter if she lied about her age and even showed you a birth certificate, all that matters is her actual age. Traffic offenses are often strict liability offenses as well, that is, you did not have to intend to run the red light to be guilty of running a red light. A broken speedometer does not absolve you of the speeding ticket (though a missing speed limit sign might where the existence of the speed limit sign is what legally changes the speed limit from what it is in unmarked roads).

Strict liability makes sense when one activity is so much more likely to be the cause of the problem, and the other activity has so little chance to prudently avoid the problem, that it makes no sense for society to litigate fault. It also makes sense when society decides to put it's thumbs on one side of the scale of justice, perhaps to encourage the vulnerable activity (bike in parts of the EU) or discourage the other activity (e.g. sex with minors).

by Jim Titus on Oct 17, 2010 6:37 pm • linkreport

@Jim Titus's explanation saved us from a monster comment from me!

An unsafe intersection is just what it says it is.

Speaking of which, i think traffic engineers, DOT officials, and Councilmembers/Mayors/Governors/Presidents should be held to a strict liability standard, too -- if your road design is proven to be defective, and it has harmed or killed people, then you need to go to jail. It's insane that that is not the case. My old engineering prof used to say, "Listen, if you want to make money, go sell drugs. If you **** up here, people die. Someone will screw up, just don't let it be you." Our engineers and officials need to be held accountable for safety first, and then for whatever else we want our transportation systems to do and not do.

Our here in Cali, some state DOT nuts designed this 'S-curve' on the Bay Bridge. People warned them it was dangerous. They went ahead anyways. People starting getting injured and killed. Nobody, to my knowledge, has yet gone to jail. Why?

I don't care if the drivers-who-kill go to jail, the engineers and DOT heads who designed the dangerous roads and intersections, or all of them, but somebody needs to go to jail, I know that. Let them all lawyer-up and go at each other -- I'll bring the popcorn.

If the driver is held liable through no fault of their own, you've just ruined two lives unnecessarily.

If there was truly no fault on the part of the driver, then they would not be liable, period.

That said, the chances of a driver not being liable for injuring/killing people would, in my ideal world, be so rare as to be almost non-existent.

As for ruining lives unnecessarily, I think we've proven with the current state of affairs that we, as a society, are all about ruining myriad lives unnecessarily -- something needs to change.

by Peter Smith on Oct 17, 2010 6:45 pm • linkreport

Problem with all your hypothesizing is that none of you know if the Dodge truck that struck the pedestrian actually killed him. Surely getting hit at about 35 or so MPH would do some damage, but not the damage I saw when I stopped traffic to keep folks from driving through the scene. This man was a victim of nothing less than under wheel action from a heavy motor vehicle, not something that the Dodge pickup did. Obviously a second vehicle is involved and I guess you would all like to blame him/her too; after all, it is most likely that the cause of death was the second vehicle vice the first. You are a keyboard quarterbacking fool. What the pedestrian did was absolutely stupid and led to a very unfortunate sequence of events that lead to his death. The absolute last thing you expect to see is someone running across 6 lanes of fast moving traffic in the dark. DARK you know where there is no light, not sun in his eyes or whatever other crap you can invent. I don't care how fast your reflexes are, you can't protect yourself from the bad judgment and subsequent acts of others in your vicinity. PWC Police did an investigation as they do with all accidents involving fatalities; if you can do better, step up to the plate. As for cross walks and lights, yes this may have helped, but pedestrians get mowed down in crosswalks everyday but that doesnÂ’t mean youÂ’re free to mow down pedestrians in PWC. Only an idiot would state such a thing and another would argue its validity.

by Ken on Oct 17, 2010 8:26 pm • linkreport


I just watched the news piece. The car that struck and killed the pedestrian, according to police, was "travelling at a high rate of speed." You say 35 MPH, if I understand. But the speed limit there is 45 MPH, and a high rate of speed has got to be faster than that.

by Jazzy on Oct 17, 2010 9:03 pm • linkreport

First, I fully recognize that many pedestrians, especially in DC, have no regard for traffic laws and pedestrian safety at all--both drivers and pedestrians. People don't use turn signals, jump out in front of traffic outside cross walks, stand in the middle of intersections with no walk signal, etc. Both parties are to blame, but the sad fact is that DRIVERS are the only party who's neglegence can KILL. A pedestrian acting against traffic isn't going to harm a driver any; although I'm sure there are a few K-St execs and cab drivers who would think killing a pedestrian is okay as long as they get where they're going on time.
ALl that to say, I feel that pedestrian safety should be the highest of concern, even when they're not following the laws. IF a pedestrian gets hit the police should do their due diligence to see who was really at fault. But this is Virginia we're talking about--and I'm not at al surprised they don't give a hoot about a pedestrian. After all, "real Americans" in Virginia smoke, carry guns, and drive big cars--everyone else is just an expendable pinko-commy-socialist-gay-hippy, right?

by Matt on Oct 18, 2010 11:43 am • linkreport

Supervisor Maareen Caddigan raled against any improvements to this area. fast forward one year, there is a crosswalk and a traffic light. The sad fact is, she knew it was dangerous, she knew there was funding to improve the area, and she slow rolled the project. But now in an election year, she claims it as her own idea and as a supporter of the whole idea.

by Real Republican on Nov 1, 2011 7:23 pm • linkreport

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