About 30 minutes after the sunset yesterday, a car in SeaTac hit two men. One lived and the other died. The dead person is said to have recently moved to the US from Africa.
The accident happened on a street that has many Somali businesses and services. The area's Somali community center is not far from where the African's life came to an end. Cindi West, the spokesperson for the King County sheriff's office, says the driver of the automobile, a sports utility vehicle, was female and failed a field sobriety test. The driver was arrested and is currently being investigated for vehicular homicide, a crime which carries a sentence of 78 to 102 months in prison.
But even if the driver is found guilty of and subsequently punished for this crime, the real cause of the tragedy, car culture, will remain intact. This is exactly the point Emily Pothast made in her provocative essay last week "Why I Am Probably Going to Send the Drunk Driver Who Killed My Parents a Christmas Card." Drunk driving is common and even banal. Indeed, a visit on any given day to our county courts reveals that without DUIs these places would be much, much quieter and many lawyers would be out of work.
As John Massengale, an NYC architect and urban designer, explains in a recent City Limits post, the US has a transportation system that requires people to "drive everywhere for everything" and it's not extraordinary to most people "that we have 30,000-40,000 traffic deaths every year." But cars are not only dangerous to other cars, cyclists, and pedestrians, they also expose very ordinary people to the kind of prison sentences that are handed to some of the hardest criminals in our society. You can be a happy man or woman with a job and house when you step into a car after a party, and step out of it a criminal facing many years behind bars.