In Prince William County, apparently it’s completely legal to kill any pedestrian, anytime, if they are in the road but not in a crosswalk. All you have to do is not drive away afterward and be sober.
This morning, a pickup truck driver and possibly also the driver of another box truck hit and killed a man crossing Virginia Route 234 near US-1 in Dumfries.
We don’t know all the details. Did the man suddenly run out in front of the truck, or was he crossing at a place where there is poor visibility? It’s early in the morning, so maybe the sun was in his eyes. Maybe the pickup truck driver couldn’t have avoided the crash.
Or, perhaps it’s a clear stretch, and the driver was just speeding up to try to make the light, or on his phone, or trying to eat a breakfast sandwich at the same time.
But at least from the article, it doesn’t appear that Prince William County police care. Spokesperson Jonathan Perok simply told Potomac Local, “Since the victim crossed where there is no cross walk, the fault of the death lies with the pedestrian.”
Whenever we write about pedestrian safety, some commenters accuse us of being absolutist, of believe it’s always the driver’s fault. It’s not. Sometimes it’s the driver’s fault, sometimes the pedestrian’s.
But local police are the ones who are usually absolutist. Lt. Craig Royal, head of the MPD crash unit, told the DC Pedestrian Advisory Council that in pedestrian crashes, in his experience the pedestrian has always done something wrong. Even if that’s usually correct, that attitude means that police aren’t really going to try to decide. They’ll just assume it’s the pedestrian’s fault.
After all, the pedestrian is dead. The driver isn’t. Identifying fault requires an investigation which is a lot of work. And if they do blame even one driver one time, they’ll probably catch a bunch of political flak from all the drivers who don’t want to be afraid they might face charges if they hit someone.
There’s political support for arresting drunk drivers and hit-and-run drivers, so the police do that. Or at least they do sometimes; at other times, it’s still too much work. Drivers who simply aren’t paying attention face no risk at all.
Pedestrians have a responsibility to act safely. But drivers also have a responsibility to be taking reasonable care not to kill people. The police at least owe it to everyone to conduct an investigation and avoid coming to a hasty conclusion simply because the pedestrian isn’t in the very limited spaces that have been allocated to them. In many suburban areas, there are simply not enough crosswalks in places people need to cross.
Meanwhile, if you find yourself in Prince William County and see someone you don’t like walking on a street outside a crosswalk, hit the accelerator. You can rub them out and the police will give you an instant free pass. Memo to professional hit men: there’s a huge business opportunity here.
But seriously, please don’t kill anyone. If you are driving, please keep in mind that pedestrians might be where you don’t expect them. If you’re on foot, take extra care. The police aren’t interested in protecting you.
Update: TBD On Foot has more. Apparently this is a common spot for people to cross on foot, but there’s still no crosswalk. A witness said he was shocked the driver didn’t see the pedestrian.
Four miles away, a driver hit a pedestrian who was in a crosswalk; police told TBD that driver will face charges.
Update 2: Via @TBDCommute, Potomac Local reports that there was another crash at the same commuter lot on Tuesday. The victim, a U.S. Airman, tried to file a report later in the day, but police wouldn’t take it. Perok said, “A report is not required if a crash happens in a parking lot.” The victim’s wife commented, “I guess pedestrians don’t have the right of way in Virginia.”