Charles Mudede

Not long after the mass shooting in El Paso, which appears to be racially motivated, Neil deGrasse Tyson, the celebrity astrophysicist who is accused, by several women, of sexual misconduct, attempted to appear like the cool head among a hoard of hot ones. He pointed out, with the air of a Vulcan, that common things (medical errors, flu, suicides, car accidents, and such) are far more deadly than mass shootings, and the only reason we freak out about the latter is because “our emotions respond more to spectacle than to data.” As much as I dislike Tyson, it has to be admitted that there is some truth in this thinking. Particularly his point about car accidents.

This morning, a pedestrian in Columbia City was killed by a silver pickup truck while crossing the street. The vehicle collided with another vehicle and rolled over and crushed the walking woman. Her life was over before the paramedics arrived at the scene. "It was just bad luck," said an officer to me, as he removed police tape from streetlight poles (it had occurred 3 hours earlier). Two men were hitching the silver pickup to a tow truck, someone had already scrubbed the victim's blood from the crosswalk, the cars on MLK were moving again.

"It might have been one driver tried to rush a red light. Bad things just happen sometimes," said the officer. But do they, I thought? Is this really something out of our control? The woman crushed by the pickup truck like a woman struck by lightning? If my numbers are right (and they are based on Seattle Times's July 23 post "SDOT data shows nearly 100 serious-injury or fatal collisions on Seattle streets in first half of 2019") she is the 11th pedestrian death in Seattle this year.

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Seattle Times's Michelle Baruchman writes:

During the first half of this year, 101 people were seriously injured or killed in 98 collisions on Seattle streets. That’s the highest number of crashes in the first six months of a year since 2010, according to preliminary police reports analyzed by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT)
And it's not just Seattle that's becoming more deadly for pedestrians. It's the whole state. And then there are just the car-car collisions, which, due to Seattle's rapidly rising population, are also rapidly rising. But my point is this: No one is freaking out about the real danger cars present to lives in this city, this state, and this nation. Yes, guns are a serious problem, and a sane society would ban them entirely. But a sane society also needs to recognize that cars are also a serious public health issue, and find ways to protect them from each other and from pedestrians.

And why will we not do this? Because the moment cars are forced to move slowly, and drivers are required to focus all of their attention on commanding 4000 pounds of plastic, fossil matter, and metal, the luxury of the car (the music, the isolation, the checking of Facebook feeds) vanishes. At this point, the real car appears as it is. This is the one that's actually safe and saves lives. But it's also the one that's not a burden to society but to the individual.

Tyson, nevertheless, is still a prick.