A Deadly Crash Is an Accident Because it Isn't Terrorism

Cable news networks interrupted broadcasts on Thursday morning with breaking news: a vehicle had just driven three block on the sidewalks in Times Square, New York, resulting in massive casualties. Anchors asked, "Was it terrorism or an accident?"

Read Time: 3 minutes

May 21, 2017, 7:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid


News hosts could initially only report on the horrific incident with graphic picturesvideos, and on-street interviews, but only speculate as to the cause, while recounting recent incidents abroad where motor vehicles had been used by terrorists to cause massive deaths and injuries.

"The speeding car jumped the sidewalk on the west side of 7th Avenue at 42nd Street and barreled into pedestrians for three blocks before crashing at the northwest corner of 45th Street," reported Ray Sanchez for CNN. "An 18-year-old woman was killed and at least 22 people injured..." 

Paul Steely White, executive director of New York City-based Transportation Alternatives, takes it from here in an opinion in the Daily News published Friday.

But when news emerged that what happened in Times Square was not an act of terrorism, instead of breathing a sigh of relief, those of us in the safe streets movement could only shake our heads: It had happened again.

The driver, "Richard Rojas, 26, of the Bronx -- tested positive for PCP and told police that God made him do it, a law enforcement source told CNN," reported Sanchez. [See Planetizen: DUIDs Surpass DUIs as Cause of Fatal Vehicle Crashes.] "The Post reported that it was an attempt of "suicide by cop."

Cars jumping sidewalks and hitting pedestrians is not new. "Pedal misapplication," by definition, may not be intentional, but the effects are just as tragic and is sadly a regular occurrence. And vehicles used by deranged drivers, but not terrorists, to hit, main, and kill pedestrians and cyclists, in not new.

Yet despite this historic pattern of innocent pedestrians mowed down by drivers making deadly or sociopathic choices, and scores more throughout the rest of the city, many reporters, elected officials and first responders referred to yesterday’s tragedy — and countless others — as “accidents.”

Last year, the death toll on America's roads exceeded 40,000, according to preliminary estimates by the National Safety Council. Politifact reported in October 2015 that 24 people in the United States had died due to terrorism within the last decade

As the final picture of Thursday's carnage, the resting place of the Honda above a steel bollard, also referred to as a stanchion, clearly illustrated, the casualty toll could have been much greater.

To prevent further loss of life, in the wake of yesterday’s tragedy we must realize that it was the controversial street safety improvements applied to Times Square in recent years — including wider sidewalks protected with steel and concrete bollards — that prevented the tragedy from being far worse.

White goes on to describe recent improvements made under Mayor Bill de Blasio in the Vision Zero program, but ends on a somber note:

It is likely that the next pedestrian death will not occur under the worldwide lens of Times Square, but on a regular street in a regular New York City neighborhood.

Thursday, May 18, 2017 in Daily News

Chicago Commute

The Right to Mobility

As we consider how to decarbonize transportation, preserving mobility, especially for lower- and middle-income people, must be a priority.

January 26, 2023 - Angie Schmitt

Aerial view of dense single-family homes in neighborhood still under construction

How Virginia Counties Use Zoning to Stifle Development

Some state legislators are proposing action at the state level as counties block development using zoning and development requirements even as housing prices rise sharply in the region.

January 23, 2023 - The Virginia Mercury

New York City Coronavirus

The Once-in-a-Generation Opportunity to Remake Downtown

Urban cores around the country were transforming into live, work, and play destinations before the pandemic. The pandemic was a setback for this transformation, but it could also be a rare opportunity. It’s up to city leadership to seize it.

January 23, 2023 - The Washington Post

Rendering of red seven-story student housing building with students walking in open grassy plaza in front of building

L.A. Times Editorial Board Calls for CEQA Reform

The Board argues that the environmental law, while important, has too often been ‘weaponized’ by NIMBY groups to delay or halt housing development.

January 31 - Los Angeles Times

Seattle buses in line at a depot with Seattle skyline in background

Seattle Brings Free Transit to Public Housing

Linking transit programs to housing can lower administrative costs and streamline the process for riders.

January 31 - Route Fifty

Broad street in downtown Columbus, Ohio with two pedestrians in crosswalk

Columbus Could Lower Downtown Speed Limits

The city council will vote on a proposal to lower speed limits to 25 miles per hour to improve safety and make downtown more walkable and welcoming to pedestrians.

January 31 - The Columbus Dispatch