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When Stories Come Too Close to Home

My phone buzzed with a text from a friend as I was getting Scooter from preschool. There was a car accident in front of the local elementary school, my friend said. Did I know anything?

No, I texted back. Accident? What accident? Confused and concerned, I drove by the school, where I found the road blocked by police cars and yellow tape. Back at my laptop, I soon learned what was happening. A neighborhood mom had been doing what all of us do daily—buckling her child into a car seat—when she was hit by a truck. While her child was unhurt, she was seriously injured.

The news made me feel sick to my stomach for so many reasons. As the mom of young kids, this accident unnerved me. It happened just blocks from our house, on a street that we walk daily on our trip to school. And it could have been any of us. Like Sandy Hook, I found myself constantly refreshing the pages of local news sites and Facebook, hoping to hear that this mom would be OK.

Heartbreakingly, though, she was not. Later that day, local news sites reported that she had died from her injuries, leaving behind a husband, three small children, and a community stunned with shock and grief. Bunches of flowers began appearing at the spot where she was hit; a helium-filled “You Will Be Missed” balloon was tied to a telephone pole.

As a journalist, I felt just as ill. Earlier this year, I finished a sprawling beast of a story for a local magazine. The topic? Pedestrian safety, or lack thereof, in our community. Hauntingly, the issue began showing up on newsstands only a few days before the accident; I received my copy in the mail the day after the crash.

It was truly unsettling. I wrote that story, and researched the hell out of it, because I thought there was a problem in our community that needed to be discussed: the gap between the county’s admirable goals of encouraging residents of all ages to walk and bike more and the modern reality of our very busy roads. If you want people to skip the car in favor of other transportation options, you have an equal responsibilty to make sure those those streets are safe for non-drivers to use.

Clearly, we have a lot of work to do.

One of the most eye-opening facts I found in my reporting was how dangerous even relatively low speeds can be. Despite Arlington’s typical posted speed limits of 25 and 30, I swear that the effective speed on our local roads is 40 miles per hour. We’re all rushing to work, to school, to soccer, to daycare, and the dry cleaner, and I am no exception. But I now stick to the speed limit. Why? Because if a car going 40 miles per hour and hits a pedestrian, that pedestrian’s chance of dying skyrockets to 85 percent. Eighty-five percent. I want no part of that grief-filled number. Do you?

The police are still investigating the accident, but if there is anything I wish people would take away from that tragedy and my article, it is that we cannot afford to be so recklessly impatient on the road. Slow down. Stow the phone. Pay attention to all the users on the road. All of our lives depend on it.

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Reader Comments (1)

Thank you for writing this. If something good can come from this tragedy, I hope it is that greater safety measures can be put in place not only around this elementary school but everywhere in the county. I went to our school's PTA meeting last night where a transportation rep talked about the downside of pushing for a car-free, walking and biking community--and that is, traffic can flow pretty quickly around here. The unexpected upside of traffic congestion is that people are going slower. But if we don't want congestion, then we have to find another way to slow people down so that no other family, no other school, and no other neighborhood has to suffer this kind of tragedy.

March 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKim

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