On American Streets, “Freak Accidents” Are Freakishly Common

This week Sarah has pointed to two bloggers making the case for the removal of both "avid cyclist" and "alternative transportation" from the livable streets lexicon. When it comes to media write-ups of traffic crashes, we nominate "freak accident" to the list of terms slated for obsolescence.

amd_joshua_delarosa.jpgJoshua Delarosa. Photo via Daily News

Monday morning, four-year-old Joshua Delarosa and his mom Romula Fernandez were walking to his preschool in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. As they waited to cross at Broadway and W. 230th St., a livery cab driver swerving to miss a turning DEP truck plowed into a pole, which fell onto Joshua. He was in critical condition as today’s papers went to press. His mother was also hospitalized.

Though relaying a witness account that the cab driver was speeding, and noting that the truck driver turned in front of him, the Daily News nonetheless summarized the crash like so:

A Bronx preschooler was clinging to life Monday night after he was struck by a pole in a freak accident on his way to day care with his mom, police and family said.

The News seems to have taken its cue from the cab driver, who holds the truck driver and the pole responsible for Joshua’s injuries. The truck driver, in turn, blamed the cab driver. Police and prosecutors are apparently on board with this firing squad theory of traffic justice, as neither driver has been charged with anything. "How are you going to stand at the corner with a baby and get hit? And it’s nobody’s fault," said Joshua’s babysitter.

Last week, also in the Bronx, cyclist Megan Charlop died after a motorist opened a car door in front of her — a crash the Post chalked up as a "freak accident," though dooring happens often enough that laws against it are ubiquitous.

Despite over 40,000 Americans killed and millions hurt every year, no manner of death or injury is as readily dismissed as an act of god or nature or luck as that involving a motor vehicle. Together, the words "freak accident" further separate deliberate actions from often unintended but no less predictable consequences. How can preventable violence which is incredibly commonplace be described as either?

  • Amen!

    I don’t believe in “freak accidents” either. I observe 60 points worth of moving violations in 10 minutes by drivers of automobiles this past weekend which is enough to revoke the licenses of five different drivers here in New Jersey.

    Today I observed another driver make 6 points worth of moving violations in all of 10 seconds while riding my bike to work. If I had been able to observe that driver for another 20 seconds I’m quite sure this person would have committed enough other violations to revoke their license.

    When driving habits of American drivers are this bad, nothing is a “freak accident!”

  • JamesR

    This stretch of Broadway in Kingsbridge and Riverdale is gaining increasing notoriety as a dangerous area for pedestrians. This is one mile from the spot where a woman was struck and killed last month by a motorist while crossing between Van Cortlandt Park and the opposite side of the street. There is NO speed enforcement on Broadway. How long must this go on?

  • Yes, the term “freak accident” is best used to describe something that’s just really hard to foresee, like when you get hit by an airplane while jogging on the beach, or a mysterious three-foot aluminum disk crashes through your windshield.

    Using it to describe situations where someone was being reckless or unsafe, like the dooring incident that killed Megan Charlop or the speeding and failure to yield that injured little Joshua Delarosa, debases the term and provides an excuse for all kinds of dangerous behavior.

    It’s interesting, though, there’s always someone at fault, like whoever caused the plane to crash, or whoever left the aluminum disk in the middle of the road. But those people tend to be pretty far removed from the action.

  • It’s not a “freak accident” when someone gets killed or maimed as a direct result of someone else driving in excess of the speed limit. Freakin’ non-accident, yes. “Freak accident,” no.

  • LOLcat

    Speeding was the main cause of the accident. Obviously the livery cab driver needs to be charged.

  • If something has a commonly accepted euphemism, like the “door prize”, then it stands to reason that this is not a “freak” occurrence, but something that might not be common to populations outside of the victim pool. I mean how many people driving cars or trucks are killed by other drivers or passengers opening a door in front of them?

    But I agree, there has to be a different name for a wreck that is totally beyond the scope of the victim’s ability to avoid them beyond the exercise of high degrees of prescience. You shouldn’t have to be psychic to stay alive while using the streets as they were intended.

  • The only freak accident is what George Carlin described back in the ’60s/’70s, when he described a freak accident as ix freaks in a van hitting two freaks in a Volkswagen.

    The simple fact is, it is not possible to have an “accident” on a well-designed, properly functioning roadway if all road users are operating safely and legally. It takes one or more people breaking the law or driving/riding/walking carelessly or dangerously to cause a collision. If no one is at fault, then the design of the roadway must be, making the city, county or state liable for any and all injuries.

    It’s not the word “freak” that we have to eliminate; it’s the word “accident.” It’s not an accident if someone was careless or broke the law, or if the streets themselves are the problem.

  • Using it to describe situations where someone was being reckless or unsafe, like the dooring incident that killed Megan Charlop or the speeding and failure to yield that injured little Joshua Delarosa, debases the term and provides an excuse for all kinds of dangerous behavior.

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