07 February 2019

They Aren't Blamed. So Why Are We?

In each of the past five years, more Americans have died from opioid drug overdoses than from car crashes or gun violence.

One reason for this, of course, is improvements in automotive safety.  Another is the campaigns to reduce gun violence, which have succeeded in a number of cities.

But no one would suggest that we should celebrate those developments when people are dying because they were prescribed drugs that they, and possibly their doctors, didn't realize were so addictive.  If anything, people from medical experts to the loved ones of those who've died will say that everything from the pharmaceutical and insurance companies' roles in creating and fueling the epidemic of addiction, to the ways in which the drugs act in the body, needs to be investigated.

And one rarely, if ever, hears anyone blaming the overdose victims themselves for dying in greater numbers than people involved in car crashes or shootings.  Thankfully, most Americans now understand that addiction is a health problem, not a moral failing, and that addicts need help in overcoming the ways in which the drugs overtook their bodies and minds rather than condemnation for "letting themselves" become addicted.

Would that such understanding were extended to cyclists and pedestrians.

In 2017, 27 cyclists and pedestrians were killed in San Jose, California.  An equal number of people were homicide victims.  

As in other large urban areas, the homicide rate in the San Francisco Bay Area, which includes San Jose, has been falling for a number of years.  I don't think anyone is unhappy about that, and don't believe they should be.  It shouldn't, however, be used to trivialize the number of cyclists and pedestrians who are killed.  While not many people are doing that, they are engaging in a kind of victim-blaming they would never direct at someone who dies from an overdose.  Such people believe that cyclists and pedestrians are "over-entitled" for having the right of way, or for having lanes dedicated to them.  

I won't deny that there are careless pedestrians and cyclists.  I would submit, however, that there are far more motorists who are reading or sending text messages, talking on their cell phones, or doing any number of other things that distract them from their surroundings. But it's odd that they are seldom blamed when they crash into other vehicles, let alone pedestrians or cyclists.

So, yes, we should be happy that fewer people are being shot, stabbed or beaten to death.  But we mustn't lose sight of the fact that increasing numbers of people are meeting premature demises while walking or pedaling to school or work, or for exercise.  In other words, a cyclist or pedestrian who is run down by a motorist is as likely as not to be an experienced, responsible cyclist or pedestrian who follows the rules of the road and takes all of the necessary precautions.

Opioid addicts, homicide victims and other people who die from causes not of their making are not blamed for their own deaths.  Why should it be any different for cyclists and pedestrians?


  1. I wish this post could be on the front page of every paper in the U.S.