Yesterday, with its beautiful weather, was a good day to get out of Philadelphia, for me, but even more for those who lacked the option, because they are fixed, inanimate objects. In three separate incidents, drivers plowed their cars into the Wawa at Delaware and Tasker in South Philadelphia, a Dunkin Donuts on Ridge Ave. in Roxborough, and the stone wall around the campus of Girard College in Fairmount. Two of the three drivers sustained minor injuries; fortunately, no innocent bystanders were hurt. In more disturbing traffic carnage, an off-duty Philadelphia PD Traffic Officer was arrested for DUI after a collision with another vehicle on Woodland Ave. at 49th St. in Southwest Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the Jersey Turnpike, NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly announced a change to Our Northern Neighbor’s approach to investigating car crashes, beginning with the renaming of the unit that performs these investigations from the “Accident Investigation Squad” to the “Collision Investigation Squad”. This comes after a growing howl from New York transportation safety advocates, who protested that the NYPD was systematically absolving drivers of any responsibility for the lethal consequences of their actions, so long as they weren’t intoxicated and did not leave the scene. Even in cases where drivers mounted the wide New York sidewalks and killed unsuspecting pedestrians — an indication of failure to exercise proper care if one ever existed — the NYPD would issue a bolierplate statement ending in the infuriating phrase “no criminality is suspected”. Now, if the leadership at the top is any indication, the NYPD may finally, finally, be recognizing that pointing a car at a crowd of innocents and pressing the gas pedal is as deadly, and as criminal, as pointing a gun at the same crowd and pulling the trigger. (Now, convincing the Manhattan DA’s office of this may be another uphill climb.) The growing mountain of pedestrian and cyclist bodies in the city morgue has been called “alarming“, and a slow-motion massacre on the streets of New York. Assigning responsibility where it belongs instead of to the random vicissitudes of uncaring fate is the required first step. If people cannot drive safely, they should not be driving on the streets of our most crowded cities, where they put the most other people at risk.
Hopefully, this change is one that will be emulated here, both by the Philadelphia Police Department, and by other law enforcement agencies throughout the region (and the nation). A good first step will be to see if Philadelphia can assess points or license suspensions to the three very lucky property-destroyers, who avoided killing or injuring pedestrians or shop patrons only by sheer luck and the fast jumping of their would-be victims. A better sign will be if PPD can police its own, assess proper penalties to Ofc. Joseph Kelly, and above all remove him from the Traffic Unit, assuming he still has a career with Philadelphia’s finest.