CONTACTTRAFFICABOUT TOM VANDERBILTOTHER WRITING CONTACT ABOUT THE BOOK

The Accidental Journalist (an occasional series chronicling how predictable, preventable crashes are turned into accidents)

I couldn’t help but notice, reading about the tragic case of Aileen McKay-Dalton, which the NYPD has made — per usual — an absolute hash of, this early dispatch in the New York Daily News. The most charitable thing we might say about it was that it was a rush job.

Even though the article later notes that police were still investigating which of the two drivers ran the red light — and it now appears it was the SUV driver, who witnesses also say was speeding — the piece still frames the bulk of the article as to cast the burden of suspicion on McKay-Dalton. Calling it a “Vespa accident,” as if she somehow skidded out of control, the article then notes “McKay-Dalton was riding west on DeKalb Ave. when she collided with a 2005 Ford Explorer driving north on Clinton Ave., police said.” So even though the same article notes that police at that point didn’t know which driver had run the light, the construction of the sentence subtly attributes culpability to McKay-Dalton: “she collided with,” rather than, “she was struck by.”

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 21st, 2010 at 7:41 pm and is filed under The Accidental Journalist. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

9 Responses to “The Accidental Journalist (an occasional series chronicling how predictable, preventable crashes are turned into accidents)”

  1. Marty Barfowitz Says:

    The way that the NYPD treats ped, bike and, in this case, scooter fatalities in car crashes is an absolute scandal. I’m glad this egregious case got some press because it’s par for the course. God forbid a friend of loved one is ever run down by a car on the streets of New York City. When you see the NYPD crash report (if they release it to you — they don’t always do that) chances are you’ll find that the victim’s life was completely written-off by whatever office happened to “investigate” and write up the crash report. Seriously. I’ve read a number of these “accident reports” and it’s that bad. The blame is almost always implicitly placed on the victim.

  2. Zebee Says:

    But that’s how motorcycle and bicycle crashes are normally reported. The two wheeler always “collides with”, is always implied to be at fault The riders “lose control” whereas when the same thing happens to a car it’s always the “car left the road” or similar blaming of inanimate object, not the driver.

    This is because the private car is sacred and nothing may be done or said to imply that the driver was culpable. After all, the newspaper readers are all drivers.

    If you are absolutely forced to say it was a driver at fault then demonise them some way that your readership thinks “not like me then”.

    I’m surprised you haven’t noticed this, motorcyclists have known about it for years.

  3. Cory Says:

    In fairness, it is possible that she collided with the SUV even if it ran the red light. Let’s say she was going through the green and the SUV moved in front of her. She would have collided with the SUV, even though the SUV was at fault. At that point, it would be inaccurate to say that she was struck by the SUV.

    That said, it seems the witnesses interviewed in the blog post recall the SUV hitting her.

  4. George Says:

    Here is how most of the public thinks:

    If you are using a public road without a caged vehicle (pedestrian, bicyclist or motorcyclist) and you hit or are hit by a caged vehicle it is your fault because you are not in a caged vehicle and were asking for it.

  5. Josh R Says:

    @George. You forgot, if someone in a small car gets hit and injured, it’s their fault for buying a wimpy car instead of a huge SUV.

  6. Duich McKay Says:

    Aileen McKay-Dalton was my sister. The facts of the accident are still not clear and my sister may have partially at fault but it is more than likely that a guy accelerated on amber, went through red and hit my sister. As a British citizen I concur that the initial reporting and investigation seems very slapdash. Be assured that the local community and the family will pursue truth and justice here. Arranging my sister’s memorial I was driven around Brooklyn for the first time and saw things from the perspective of a car driver for the first time (I used to ride a bicycle on Manhattan and I am unable to hold a drivers licence). Though a driver’s mistake is the likely cause (we hear that he is traumatised by what happened) what struck me was very poor intersection design and an appalling road surface which gives little room for the slick manoeuvres available in Europe’s roads.

  7. ad Says:

    I do feel for the tragic death of this mother, but any rider of a scooter or a motorcycle has to accept certain risks. Most feel that the pleasure and convenience outweigh the dangers. Regardless of who is at fault accidents can happen and when they do the results are often deadly. This is a sobering reminder of the risks they take.

  8. Brent Says:

    It seems that in Toronto, at least, the idea of “accidents” in car crash terms is being challenged:

    http://www.thestar.com/article/856651–english-is-a-car-crash-an-accident

  9. Tim Says:

    It is worth noting that the US media (in particular, but by no means exclusively) is very reluctant to apportion blame to a driver in many other cases. Railroad accidents seem particularly ripe for this kind of emotive reporting. Compare and contrast these two headlines:

    “Van struck by Amtrack locomotive in south city”
    and
    “Suffolk train and lorry level crossing smash injures 21″

    In both cases it would appear that the driver of the truck/van had misused the crossing. One came from a local US TV website, the other from English local news.

    While the UK article does not apportion blame, the paragraphs below allow the reader to readily draw the conclusion that it was unlikely that the truck driver was using the crossing appropriately. It was a crossing on private land where the truck driver was required by law to phone the train dispatcher using the railroad telephone located at the crossing to ask for permission to cross. The signalling logs show that nobody called, and apparently, “[a] 38-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of railway safety offences.”

    The US news site, however, show a similar situation, albeit with fewer injuries. But the emotive language used means that while they use factually accurate statements, you as a reader are left in no doubt that the van driver was the one at risk here, “[t]he van sustained heavy damage in the crash, the train appeared to have little, if any damage.”
    (Hardly surprising given the weights and construction standards of the vehicles involved)
    This is despite the fact that the previous paragraph makes it quite clear that the van driver was attempting to outrun the train, “a cargo van tried to cross the tracks ahead of a slow moving Amtrak train.”

    I have found this common amongst US reporting of railroad incidents. The headline hardly ever indicates that some nutcase has driven into the path of a train, often despite warnings and barriers, and imply that the train didn’t stop, it just plowed straight into the car/van/truck, even though almost everyone knows it can take a couple of miles to stop a fully laden train, so it has no way of stopping in time. You never see the headline “Man drives car in front of moving train”, but you often see the headline “Train kills man driving car”, as if it was wilful on the part of the railroad or engineer, and not wilful on the part of the driver.

    This is one of the reasons the US will retain the perception that roads are safer than railroads, because the media keeps up the pressure of blame where it does not lie.

    In reply to “ad” of August 3rd, you are right that it is a risk that we choose to take. Although it is worth noting that not everyone has the right or capability of choosing to drive, either for financial, medical or legal reasons, but their “rights” in taking up the alternatives can be trodden upon by not insisting that street design and highway legislation accommodate the needs of these people. The fact that the media and police departments continue to perpetuate these “little lies” about blame and risk will mean that the rights of this group of citizens will continue to remain undermined in the US.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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