Saturday, June 18, 2011

Careful with that mutika

I am not sure how to approach this subject since it arouses quite a bit if anger within me and I feel the subject is terribly misunderstood by the general public and more specifically the Dominant Anglo Mutika (motor car) obsessed culture!

Could be you
(Telltale markings on the road)

I have to write something but once again I doubt I will do it justice! Maybe this can be the preliminary for some more substantial writing about the issue of road safety and the basic human rights of pedestrians.

Once again on my way to work I came across the remains of a grisly scene. Spray painted marks on the road indicating the various points of impact and final landing place of various objects after having been impacted by a motor vehicle. As I rode down Bagot Road toward the city I noticed the markings one by one until reaching the unmistakable outline of a person!

Another body has been smashed on the road! As I ride to work it is not uncommon to ride across blood stains and fur from countless, bandicoots, rats, cats and sometimes dogs. Occasionally but far too often there is evidence that a person has been hit. Thursday was one of those days!

I am talking about Bagot Road which links Darwin city with it's Northern Suburbs. It is three lanes wide and carries what I would expect most cities would consider a moderate amount of traffic. The road divides the residential suburbs of Ludmilla and Coconut Grove from the patch of land containing the RAAF base and Airport. Along the outbound side of the road there are retail outlets, MacDonalds, Red Rooster, two Primary Schools, blocks of flats and the Bagot Aboriginal Community. The majority of the in bound side has only a strip of grass and trees seperating the road from a high cyclone wire fence behind which is the RAAF, there is no footpath and very little space to stand, the ground is sloping towards the road. There are several bus stops along the road with about 4 or 5 on the side which has no footpath and very little space for people to sit.

Here I think are some of the factors which I believe have contributed to far too many people being hit on this road.

1. Speed limit - 70 - 80 kmh
2. Lack of appropriate pedestrian crossings
3. Lack of appropriate lighting at key sites where people cross the road
4. Higher than usual number of pedestrians/ Public transport users
5. Higher than usual likelihood of people who are not familiar with road conditions (a lot of people who stay at Bagot actually come from Aboriginal communities where there aren't any busy roads)
6. Pedestrian Intoxication
7. Driver negligence 
8. Insufficient space to stand at side of the road, sloping surface

I do not have any details about the facts involved in this recent accident and I would prefer not to speculate or try to draw any conclusions as to what happened on this occasion. However I would like to reflect on the attitudes that I come across when discussing the situation with people generally. I find their comments quite revealing and believe that it is popular Car Culture attitudes which have allowed this situation to continue without any 'meaningful' attempt to improve safety for pedestrians. (I use the word meaningful because there have actually been some attempts made to improve bus stops and crossing but they do not really address the real problems.)

These statements are a generalization and are not related to any empirical data, they are based only on general themes I have picked up on in discussion with people who are not experts... and were not present at the accidents. It is possible they may read a little too much of the local Tabloid or watch news on TV.

Q. What caused the accident
A. The the pedestrian was drunk and black

Q. Who was at fault
A. The pedestrian

Q. How could this have been prevented
A. He/She should stay off the road

Q. What about road conditions?
A. Not a problem.

Generally the answer I get  is that The pedestrian was hit because they were drunk and stepped onto the road at night, weren't seen and an innocent driver hit them.

Those hit aren't always black or drunk but there seems to be a general sense that this is the reason why people are hit by cars on Bagot Road. When the situation varies though people often seem just as willing to blame the victim of the incident rather than consider that there might be some other serious causes for the incident. For instance when a cyclist was hit a couple of years ago I remember the major point of discussion was whether or not he was wearing a helmet! It seems the blame for the accident could be shifted from the driver to the cyclist simply because he didn't have a helmet on when the car hit him!

Personally I find this situation quite intolerable and because it will result in more people being killed or maimed unnecessarily. I don't want to be one of them.

I will try to post on this subject in more detail when I have time to compose a constructive argument. But I would like to ask a few questions which I have asked several people I know and received somewhat negative feedback.

1. What if the speed limit was reduced to 60km. (how much time would actually be lost?
2. Would pedestrian crossings or lights make it safer for people to cross the road going to or from the buss stop?
3. Would improved lighting crossing the road near a buss stop increase visibility of pedestrians?
4. Would drivers pay attention to signs alerting drivers to the presence of pedestrians make them more cautious?

I am not blaming drivers for this situation. I still don't know any of the facts that contributed to this latest  incident and would hate to attribute guilt to anyone involved, it's not my place to do that. I have been in the situation more than once when an intoxicated pedestrian has stepped onto the road at night and it is a frightening situation. I have learned that there are times and places when this is more likely and I slow right down, regardless of what the other traffic is doing! Really I would just like to take a look at the whole situation and challenge some of the popular thinking on this subject in the hope that a solution might present itself.

crash site

Surely we must be capable of putting our fundamental responsibility for the care of human life before our perceived rights as drivers of motor vehicles?

2 comments: said...

An apposite post, David! I should visit more often. :) I don't condemn cars, either...they are useful vehicles, even necessary in the lives of so many people. But I really despise the incredible arrogance, self-absorption, and obliviousness that being the driver of a car often seems to engender. It's a powerful symptom of today's malaise of general selfishness and loutish-ness. Humans seem to have become such primitive brutes.

David J said...

Yeh... people become quite powerful behind the wheel of an automobile. It's like being shrouded in a bubble of tin and glass separates them from the natural world.

Maybe drivers are suffering from the illusion of immunity from the consequences of their actions.

Poor things...