Why We Say Crash Not Accident | Remembering Mark Popovich


The stretch of road in Upper Burrell where Mark Popovich was killed


Let’s eliminate the word “accident” from our vocabulary for World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims

“It looks like he did what he was required to do in yielding to a bicyclist. He could only go so far due to traffic in the eastbound lane. Right now, it looks like just an accident. With the way things happened, it was the perfect storm, unfortunately.” – Upper Burrell Police Chief Kenneth Pate 

This quote is infuriating. After tragic crashes, one of the first things that happens is that everybody wants to know if charges will be filed. We want to see an immediate decision and the media wants to report on it. However for most crashes, it’s nearly impossible to draw a conclusion before experts have had a chance to analyze what happened, talk to witnesses, and collect evidence.

While the silence from authorities can be deafening, sometimes it can be a good thing that we don’t hear about immediate charges. It can mean that the investigators are doing their due diligence and to want to make sure that they file charges that will stick. The delay can often be due to the significant wait time to get toxicology reports back from the lab, which are integral in a solid case. The problem is that if there is no pressure to follow through with the case and actually press charges, it’s easy for them to write the incident off as “just an accident,” especially when that decision is coming from people who are reviewing the scene through windshield vision.

That is why the Upper Burrell Police chief Kenneth Pate’s comments about the death of bicyclist Mark Popovich are so shocking and irresponsible. The word “accident” implies something that was simply a mistake, and mistakes should be absolved, right? A man died on his bike, and now the investigation is starting off on the wrong foot, being proclaimed as “just an accident” by the chief of police before any experts even get a chance to evaluate what happened without bias.

We all try to recreate the scene in our minds, based off of a few details in the news combined with our experiences both on the saddle and behind the wheel. But calling it “just an accident” at such an early stage is irresponsible at best, biased at worst.

We don’t really know what happened out there yet. However before proclaiming “just an accident,” it serves the public for us to know what labor was put into this assessment, otherwise an early verdict comes off as lazy and uncaring, as if the official isn’t taking the scene seriously.

We at Bike Pittsburgh  see a violation right off the bat, and we aren’t law enforcement officials.

§ 3303 Pass to the left of the pedalcycle within not less than four feet at a careful and prudent reduced speed.

§ 3305 No vehicle shall be driven to the left side of the center or marked center line of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction unless the left side is clearly visible and is free of oncoming traffic for a sufficient distance ahead to permit the overtaking and passing to be completely made without interfering with the operation of any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction or any vehicle overtaken.

Did the driver pass prudently at a reduced speed, or did he try to squeeze past in an unsafe maneuver? Is the chief even aware of the safe passing law? Would he make the same statement if the truck was passing, say, a construction vehicle instead of a bicyclist? Would the truck driver even make the same decision to pass?

The point is we don’t know, and it’s insulting to refer to a person’s death as a mistake that should be absolved before we know the facts. Now, we can only hope that the experts can parse out what happened and the appropriate charges (if any are valid) are filed.

History has shown us that all too often charges aren’t regularly pursued when a person kills someone while driving. Maybe this is because by the time the investigation is done, the public has forgotten and moved on. Or more cynically, DA’s don’t want to pursue charges in a situation that they can see themselves in, because speeding and flaunting traffic laws is so normal in our society.

Let’s make sure they don’t forget.

Sunday, November 15 is the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.

crash-not-accidentWe’re encouraging everyone to take a moment on Sunday and think about road traffic victims in your life. They don’t have to be limited to people on bikes, or on foot, but all victims. Chances are you know one of the 2.3 million Americans who are killed and injured on our streets, and chances are, a culture of aggressive driving, poor road design, driving under the influence, or a combination of these was a factor.

Calling them accidents doesn’t recognize that these incidents are preventable, and doesn’t treat our traffic violence as the public health problem that it is.

As you post to social media, to make sure your comments are amplified nationwide, please use the hashtags #WDR2015 and #VisionZero and #CrashNotAccident


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