Despite remarkable recent gains in pedestrian safety – thanks in part to design changes aimed at slowing down drivers – cars still jump the curb nearly every day. Drivers who kill or maim pedestrians with their vehicles are still only rarely treated as criminals in New York, as long as they are not drunk and do not flee the scene. Even that is sometimes not enough to merit serious charges. […]
It wasn’t always like this. Browse through New York Times accounts of pedestrians dying after being struck by automobiles prior to 1930, and you’ll see that in nearly every case, the driver is charged with something like “technical manslaughter.” And it wasn’t just New York. Across the country, drivers were held criminally responsible when they killed or injured people with their vehicles.
So what happened? And when?
According to Peter Norton, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia and the author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City, the change is no accident (so to speak). He has done extensive research into how our view of streets was systematically and deliberately shifted by the automobile industry, as was the law itself.
“If you ask people today what a street is for, they will say cars,” says Norton. “That’s practically the opposite of what they would have said 100 years ago.”
Read more at The Atlantic Cities. [Image: Library of Congress]