Caden Sanko ‘25 is Mathematical Biology and Public Policy Major, from Miami, FL. He is a member of the Tabletop Games Club and frequently lies about his height — he says he is several inches shorter than he really is to confuse and upset other men. Email Caden at email@example.com
The views expressed in the article are the author’s own.
Halloween, in addition to being one of America’s favorite holidays, is also the deadliest night of the year for pedestrians. And no, this is not because of Fentanyl in the Skittles as some deeply paranoid news outlets may have your parents believing — it is because of careless drivers. At a Halloween party, where I and some friends coincidentally happened to be dressed as cars from the movie “Cars,” I listened in horror as an acquaintance, who I was under the impression was a well-adjusted person, told me, “I hate it when pedestrians don’t thank me for stopping at crosswalks, like, I could just run you down.”
Not even a week later a junior at the College of William and Mary was hit and seriously injured by a driver on Richmond Road, which has a marked speed limit of 25 miles per hour. I cannot help but feel that these events are somehow related.
Luckily, the aforementioned student survived and is currently recovering from her injuries in her home state. Although the College community has, supposedly, offered droves of sympathy for the injured student and their family, the reporting on the incident has been mired in the strangely passive language we have become accustomed to hearing when pedestrians are hurt or killed by drivers.
For instance, WAVY reported on the incident under the headline “William and Mary Student Struck by Car Driven by Colonial Williamsburg President,” which was bizarre. The unnamed College student is the subject of the sentence — the only one with agency. The driver, on the other hand, is conspicuously stripped of any agency they may have had, relegated to a characteristic of their vehicle — as if their car was the one running over the pedestrian and the driver was merely a passenger. And it isn’t just this incident either; even national news outlet CBS has published stories under similar headlines such as “Woman, 61, hit and killed by pickup truck.”
Headlines like these are an everyday absurdity that I am positively sick of seeing on my newsfeed. For one, the accidents that these articles describe are entirely avoidable with the addition of traffic-calming measures, as other guest writers at The Flat Hat have noted. Additionally, these articles often use wishy-washy language when referring to these fatal incidents or near-deaths. The way that pedestrian injuries and deaths in traffic accidents are reported infuriates me, and it should infuriate you too.
Imagine if we spoke and wrote about the victims of America’s pervasive problem of gun violence in this way. “Several killed in high-speed collision with bullets.” This passive word choice would rightly upset many, because it is insulting to those who lost their lives to gun violence, and it is misleading. Such language implies we live in a world in which people are struck and killed by fast-moving projectiles which, like some sort of wild animal, exist as a fact of life and are controlled by nobody in particular. Why, then, do we permit this sort of language when we talk about death and injury that resulted from careless drivers?
I confess, I do not know all of the facts of the College’s most recent incident and cannot say for certain whether the driver was distracted, intoxicated or otherwise behaving in a careless manner. But let’s be real, accidents like these happen all the time in Williamsburg, and it’s because drivers frequently shirk their obligations to protect the safety of others. Part of the issue is because Williamsburg is a college town, and most of its residents haven’t fully developed their brains yet. I am constantly reminded of this fact when I see beat up Toyota Camrys, with mufflers so loud you could hear them from Richmond, narrowly miss a gaggle of freshmen crossing the street from Green and Gold Village.
The female driver who hit me while crossing the street last year, on the other hand, was a fully grown adult who was simply too preoccupied with her phone to check if anybody was crossing before she made a right turn on red. She has no excuse, but I hope whatever TikTok she was watching was really good. Luckily she was driving a Ford Fusion, which weighs merely two tons — I, of course, easily took that one on the chin like a champion. Jokes aside, I got lucky because my injuries were very minor, but if she was driving an SUV like in the aforementioned incident, I could have easily been run over and sustained life-threatening injuries.
So for my final message, I’ll say this: drivers of Williamsburg and indeed everywhere, you are handling a deadly weapon, so start acting like it. In a just world, we would have adequate traffic-calming measures like speed bumps and street narrowing (maybe even sidewalks if we’re really lucky) to remind you to not accidentally maim college freshmen. If it were legal for me to enact such changes unilaterally, guerilla-urbanism style, I would — for my sake and yours.
Until then, you need to assume a level of responsibility consistent with the danger of piloting several tons of machinery down city streets. Turn your phone off or silence it, and when you see that someone is trying to cross at a marked crosswalk remember that you are legally obligated to stop, not speed up to try and make it through before they get the chance to start crossing. I see you, all of you — you’re not slick.