This morning a cyclist was struck and killed in Kirkland at NE 124th St and 132nd Ave in the Totem Lake area of Kirkland. The driver of the vehicle that stuck him has been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. The Seattle Bike Blog has more details.

This is close to my work and where I lived in high school and I have biked this road many times, mostly on the sidewalk because I find this road particularly unsafe even with bike lanes. For some context this is the only connection between the Burke Gilman trail and Kirkland between NE 145th and NE 85th St (roughly the distance from UW to Northgate), so its more heavily used than many people might expect. NE 145th and NE 85th are also fairly indirect and don’t have any bicycle facilities either.  While I don’t know where the cyclist was going it is fairly common for cyclist to use Slater Ave and NE 116th west of 132nd Ave since they have bike lanes and NE 124th doesn’t and NE 124th has very high vehicle volumes. I think it is also worth noting that last year a cyclist was killed on NE Juanita Dr which is the other commonly used route from Kirkland to access the Burke Gilman trail.

The only thing I have to say besides my condolences to the family and friends of the victim is actually a request. Don’t use the word “accident” when you really mean “collision”. Accident implies lack of fault, randomness and inability to control, when all collisions are in fact someones fault. To call something a “unfortunate accident” as the police officer quoited in the story did, takes the underlying message to a whole new level, ie “there was nothing that could have been done to prevent this collision and we should just get used to cyclist getting killed on our roadways.”

As a society, we need to be crystal clear about what are preventable road fatalities and injuries. To call collisions an accident validates and reaffirms a culture of irresponsibility and unaccountability, and that is the last thing our roads need.

46 Replies to ““Unfortunate Accident””

  1. I don’t care if he goes to jail (though the family of the cyclist likely does), but snatch his license for a good long time (forever?) and let the driver get to know the bus system and bike trails.

    What amazed me about the psychotic break dude on Lake City Way was that he still had is license. We gotta make it very clear that driving is a privilege, and when you exhibit careless disregard for human life you lose that privilege for a certain amount of time. Every. Single. Time.

    Fail to yield? Lose your license for a month.

    Reckless driving? Lose your license for 6 months.

    DUI? 2 years.

    Kill someone? Get yourself a lifetime bus pass and a nice Schwinn.

    1. Yes. Taking a driving license away from someone has proven to prevent them from driving every single time.

      Do you honestly think people who are psychotic or drunk care (or even know) if they have a drivers license, or not?

      1. Impounding the car helps. Garnishing wages so they can’t afford to go bar hopping helps. Refusing to issue license plates/tabs and eliminating or drastically curtailing the “assigned risk” laws would also hit drunk drivers in the pocket book. There are special laws that prevent student loans from being forgiven with bankruptcy. Extending that to civil suits stemming from using your car as a weapon would send a strong message and help victims. A McNeil Island work farm (work if you want to eat) would never fly with the American Silly Liberties Union but it works for me. Failing that, even though I’m not generally a fan of outsourcing contracting with prisons in Russia and Turkey could save tax dollars.

  2. > Don’t use the word “accident” when you really mean “collision”. Accident implies lack of fault, randomness and inability to control, when all collisions are in fact someones fault.

    Constable Butterman: Hey, why can’t we say “accident,” again?
    Sergeant Angel: Because “accident” implies there’s nobody to blame.

    1. I was thinking EXACTLY the same thing. Hilarious.

      “Have you ever fired two guns whilst jumping through the air?”

  3. Regarding accident v. collision, I know this has been a movement in the planning and ped/bike advocacy communities for some time and I appreciate the sentiment, but frankly it’s fairly silly and drives me nuts.

    Nothing about the word accident implies lack of fault. It implies lack of intentionality and awareness. In its first sense it simply means “an unforeseen and unplanned event.” In its second sense it means (my emphasis) “an unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance.

    We shouldn’t go around bothering words that are minding their own business and doing their jobs just fine. It’s bad English. And we certainly shouldn’t go around correcting people who are actually using words properly.

    1. I disagree. In the real world, “accident” implies no causation or fault (it just happened, without judgment). With respect to Webster’s, if someone gets tanked up, on their cell phone, or otherwise distracted, suffers from inadequate night vision, or is simply unaware of their surroundings, hops in their car and seriously injures or kills someone, that is no accident. That is a poor choice and the consequences should not be a $42 ticket. Using a non-judgmental term such as “accident” makes that seem OK and cheapens the value of the life or livelihood untimely cut short.

      1. Completely agree that if you cause an accident while driving drunk you should be punished far more severely than a $42 ticket. I’m a ped/bike/keeping people alive advocate, too.

        Of course there’s nothing wrong with choosing to call an accident a collision or crash if that floats your boat. But calling an accident an accident isn’t improper and doesn’t imply a lack of culpability or cheapen anyone’s life.

      2. Mr. Parast’s comment is with regard to this specific incident being called an “unfortunate accident”. The Seattle Times reports that the driver was impaired and is looking at a potential homicide charge. I believe his point is well taken. This was not an “unfortunate accident” and the Kirkland police should be called to account for their loose usage of the term accident, regardless of what may be in your dictionary.

      3. Unless the collision was intentional, it was an accident.

        Was the driver trying to hit the cyclist? If not, it was an accident.

        Just like the bicyclist who rode down some stairs and was killed: did he try to kill himself by riding his bike down a stairway? If not, it was an “accident”, whether he was drunk, stoned, or sober.

      4. What’s your argument, Jeff—that is was a fortunate accident? Unless the driver intentionally hit the cyclist it was an accident. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t a terrible thing or that he wasn’t at fault or that he shouldn’t go to jail. I don’t know how much clearer I can make that.

        You can keep pretending this is about me and “my” dictionary, but this little crusade has been going on for years, and there’s a reason neither the Associated Press, the Chicago Manual of Style, the New York Times/Wall St. Journal/Washington Post house styles, nor the usage notes in any mainstream dictionary recognize it: it’s baseless.

      5. “Was the driver trying to hit the cyclist? If not, it was an accident.”

        I didn’t MEAN to hurt anyone, I just got drunk and then got behind the wheel of a car.
        I didn’t MEAN to hurt anyone, I just pointed a firearm at someone and pulled the trigger.

      6. @Jason I work in the transportation profession and of you use the word “accident” on a report rather than “collision” or “crash” your report is unprofessional.

      7. The Seattle Times reports that the driver was impaired and is looking at a potential homicide charge.

        Jeff, he’s potentially facing a vehicular homicide charge, which is a far cry from an actual homicide charge. Remember, if you want to kill someone and skate, use a car.

    2. I see where you’re coming from but in the context of a system in which every situation has a law governing it (our roadway system) not having “intentionality or awareness” or exhibiting “carelessness or ignorance” in neither case excuses you from the law.

      In fact if you’re driving carelessly or don’t know the rules of the road you’re are breaking the law, either through not paying due attention to the road or because you’re bound to break laws if you don’t know what they are in the first place.

      Either way I think the following sentence shows why staying away from accident is so important.I think to a majority of people would agree this makes sense.

      “It’s not my fault, it was an accident!”

    3. “an unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance.”

      I think carelessness and ignorance are a fault.

      A drunk driver may not have intended to kill anyone, but anybody given the privilege to operate a motor vehicle surely knows that impaired driving is a recipe for harm up to and incliding killing a person.

      an accident is when a cat runs into the middle of a busy freeway.

      1. “I think carelessness and ignorance are a fault.”

        Exactly. And someone can be and usually is at fault for an accident. This isn’t that complicated, people.

        “A drunk driver may not have intended to kill anyone, but anybody given the privilege to operate a motor vehicle surely knows that impaired driving is a recipe for harm up to and incliding killing a person.”

        Exactly. And that’s why you should go to jail for causing an accident while driving drunk.

        “an accident is when a cat runs into the middle of a busy freeway.”

        When a cat runs into the middle of a busy freeway is one kind of accident.

      2. I guess it comes down to an accident is an “incident that happens unexpectedly”. What are the expectations for getting behind the wheel of a car while drunk? I guess it’s, I’ll be OK and if I hit something I didn’t mean to do it… and I’ll be sorry when I’m sober when I talk to a lawyer. SB 5326 will increase the penalty to a fine ranging from $1,000-5,000 (from $250 today, less than speeding in a school zone) and a 90 day suspension of the driver’s license. Harsh?

      3. Evidently the although the Vunerable User passed in May 2011 it won’t go into effect until June of 2012?

      1. “Careless driving” is a form of negligence.

        “Reckless driving,” especially while knowingly under the influence, implies a level of intent.

        By definition.

    1. Going out and drinking in our car dependent society implies intent for drunk driving. The driver intended to drink and got into the car to drive. There is no confusion, we all know people who drove drunk or drove drunk ourselves. And by drunk I just mean impaired.

      When I lived in NY it was much safer to drink because you just take a train home. Much easier.

      Drivers are out of control. Just look at the wear patterns on bike lane paint, or the yellow stripes near turns. Everyone cuts corners and ignores their responsibility. The paint tells no lies.

  4. The topic of the accident came up at lunch today when a co-worker got caught in traffic on the way to work, as they still hadn’t finished clearing it. I found the attitude of people around me particularly disturbing. The issue at hand wasn’t “what was the driver doing driving drunk?” – it was “what was the cyclist doing riding his bike at 3 in the morning?”. I replied with the obvious answer that he needed to get somewhere, but from the perspective of the people around me, that answer sounded very strange and I could read their faces as to what they were thinking – when you want to actually get somewhere, you drive a car, not ride a bike / the cyclist by merely being on the road at 3 am means he got what was coming to him.

    I don’t know how to make it happen, but this “roads are for cars” attitude is something that has to change. Except for freeways, cyclists, by law, have the same right to the roads as drivers do. And, unless he was doing something illegal, to put blame on anyone outside the drunk driver should simply not be acceptable.

    1. And police departments have to widen their recruiting windows quite a bit too. Ending the overwhelming bias towards former military would be a start.

    2. There’s right and there’s dead right. This fatality hits close to home since it’s very close to my commute (often by bike) and an intersection I’ve crossed both by car and bike many many times. It could be the cyclist had no other means to get to work. Or they may have figured at that time traffic volumes are so low it’s safe. I’m fortunate to have a choice and I won’t ride when it’s dark and a number of the people on the road are going to be driving around with fogged up windows. Riding a bike shortly after the bars close you’d have to know is dangerous. The reports so far haven’t indicated if this was a crossing or an overtaking situation or which direction the two vehicles were traveling. My hope is that the Vulnerable User Bill is shown to have some teeth in this situation. But it won’t bring someone back to life.

    3. Eric,

      You need to big sayonara to your current employer as soon as practicable. What a bunch of hard hearted jerks you work with.

      I know now is not the time to be looking for work, and certainly don’t quit until you have a firm commitment. But any company staffed by people like that is eventually going to do you wrong in some way. It’s in its DNA.

      1. Eric and I faced the same problem. My office knows it is on my bike route and gave me a ton of grief about this death. Our HR person wants bikes off her roads and gets annoyed about passing cyclists. Pisses me off.

        Not all of my co-workers are so annoying and the job is good.

  5. The word “accident” doesn’t have anything to do with fault. It means an event that did not happen on purpose. If the driver in this case saw the bicyclist and intentionally ran him down, that wasn’t an accident, it was vehicular homicide. If the driver actually hit the bicyclist due to his or her negligence, it was an accident, albeit one that was the driver’s fault and that he or she should pay the price for. I firmly believe that there need to be consequences for drivers who hit cyclists, but this semantic argument is silly and incorrect.

    1. I would basically agree; it’s the dictionary definition. The semantic comes down to what do do you think is going to happen if you operate a motor vehicle while impaired. Is it an accident that bugs on your windshield die? Oops, sorry I had no intent to kill them.

    2. I think this topic speaks more to how our community views drunk driving. If we describe the result of a person driving under the influence as an “accident” there is implication that the outcome could not have been prevented. Sometimes accidents can be prevented, we try to learn from these situations and make a better choice next time. We already know that the potential outcome caused by a drunk driver is injury/death this is why is is illegal. The driver knew this and made a choice to drive drunk. the consequence should be as steep as one given to a person who intentionally aims thier vehicle in an effort to do harm.

  6. The military has changed it’s wording to reflect this. Use to be that anytime a weapon went off when it wasn’t supposed to it was an “AD” Accidental Discharge.

    Now if the cause is user error (the overwhelming vast majority) it’s an “ND” Negligent Discharge. AD is reserved for mechanical failure. Unless said mechanical failure was the result of misusing the weapon or not propery maintianing it. If it’s those things then it is an ND.

  7. Thank you for writing this. As someone who has been hit and seriously injured by a driver who broke the law and was careless, it really does make me feel better that someone out there gets it. This was not an accident. It was a crime. My condolences to the family.

  8. If you aren’t paying enough attention to avoid a collision, you are intentionally ignoring your responsibility as a driver, and you can’t claim that “it was an accident.” Northern Europeans have it right:

    “…[T]here is a legal assumption that motorists are automatically considered liable in law for any injuries that occur if they collide with a cyclist. This may hold regardless of any fault on the part of the cyclist and may significantly affect the behaviour of motorists when they encounter cyclists.”

    From the “Road traffic legislation and its implications” section of the Wikipedia entry “Segregated cycle facilities,”

  9. Our society uses “accident” all the time. Listen to the traffic report…almost everything is an “accident”. It’s the word that’s used, whether or not it is accidental. It’s not an insult against the situation, just a way of speaking that our society is used to. “Accident” “Collision” “Crash” “Wreck”…
    Anyways, the dude should go to jail for a while and hopefully realize that living life is better than wasting it away drunk or high. Hopefully he gets the help he needs, and remember, he has to live with what he did every day for the rest of his life.

  10. This crash is on my bike route to work. In fact many of my co-workers thought it could have been me. I see there is a memorial up already. Personally I don’t find this horribly unsafe but I ride pretty vehicularly. I also make the conversion to the left turn lane quite early, just after I pass the light prior to it.

    I am not sure that light triggers for cyclists at 3am. Making a left there at that hour would pose a challenge. I have ridden that route on Sundays and the light is on a schedule at that time and doesn’t rely on a trigger. Getting hit by a drunk driver is one of my fears and in fact I have been hit by one before, though I managed to just fall over instead of suffering large impact due to avoidance maneuvers.

    I will swing by and drop off something for the memorial. My heart goes out for the family of the cyclist. It easily could have been me.

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