What it’s like to kill someone with your car

For 20 years, Shane Snowdon didn’t say much about what happened in 1997.

Snowdon, a Cambridge, Mass., resident, has broken the silence now after reading a headline.

This one:

2016 traffic deaths jump to highest level in nearly a decade

Over the last 30 years, Snowdon calculated, one of every 200 drivers in the nation has been behind the wheel of a car that killed someone.

Snowdon is one of them.

She wasn’t at fault in her crash, she writes on WBUR’s Cognoscenti blog. She wasn’t distracted. And she wasn’t impaired when she struck and killed someone on a bike.

“I will always see him staring wide-eyed at me as he flew into and over my windshield,” she writes. “I will never forget his body at roadside, utterly motionless.”

If you remember nothing else I write, I hope you’ll remember this: You do not want to be me. No destination, no text, no drink, no glance away from the road is worth knowing that you have killed another human being. You don’t want to feel you’d give anything not to have been on that road at that time. You don’t want to believe that anything you accomplish in life is offset by the death of another person. You don’t want any happiness you experience to remind you of the happiness denied the person you hit, her family, his friends. You don’t want to struggle to go on living, convinced you don’t deserve to exist, wishing you hadn’t been born.

Like the loved ones of those who have died, in honor of those who have died, I beg you to join our efforts to spare others what we’ve experienced — for your own sake. My crash might have been prevented by simple, cheap, decades-old technology that should be standard equipment on every bicycle sold in this country: blinking lights, front and rear, powerful enough to draw attention in daylight and darkness. Lights are not optional on the cars and motorcycles we buy, and they shouldn’t be optional on bikes.

NPR’s Scott Simon was so taken by the essay, he invited her on his show last weekend.

  1. Listen Shane Snowden with NPR’s Scott Simon

    March 11, 2017

“As a driver who brought death to someone, I can’t say too many times that no text, no email is worth killing or maiming another human being,” she writes.

  • Will
    • There’s absolutely nothing similar in these two things.

      • Will

        It discusses the statistics behind pedestrian/biker deaths… it’s just a different angle on the same issue, from above instead of in the perspective of the person.

        Yes, this is sad for all involved and this is horrible that these things happen. Wear visible colors and/or lights when you’re walking or riding a bike and keep your eyes open when driving…it’s not worth any rush you’re in when driving. I say this as a person who walks about 5 miles a day on public roads (much of that walk has no sidewalks). Everyone be safe out there.

        Once again, self driving cars will fix this problem, I do hope we get that technology sooner rather than later.

        • Barton

          I don’t see how self-driving cars will fix this. Those creating the technology now have already stated they don’t/can’t see pedestrians/cyclists. Heck, even that annoying warning beep on cars when you get near/cross a white/yellow line or that warn you when a car is in your blind spot cannot “see” cyclists or pedestrians.

          And I have to say, as a cyclist who is kinda anal about following the rules of the road: all the bright clothing I wear and the day-time running blinky lights don’t make a bit of difference: many drivers just don’t bother to look.

          • Rob

            I used to commute to work by bike in the St. Paul area, and literally every day I had at least one close encounter with inattentive, careless drivers violating my right of way.

          • Barton

            and thus why I don’t always take my right of way when cycling. I have little trust in others. But somehow I believe that makes be a better cyclist/driver, as I am paying hyper-attention to others on the road.

          • Rob

            That’s why I’m still alive, by ceding my right of way.

          • Will

            Here’s an interesting article about the pedestrian detection technology from Google. It’s from 2015 but apparently they were able to detect pedestrians within 0.25 seconds and I’m sure that number has improved since the article was published, the technology is getting better every day: http://spectrum.ieee.org/cars-that-think/transportation/self-driving/new-pedestrian-detector-from-google-could-make-selfdriving-cars-cheaper

          • One of the things the self-driving cars movement has not considered is a pretty important fact: People like to drive their cars.

          • Will

            People loved riding their horses too, now it’s a completely recreational activity done away from normal vehicle traffic.

          • BJ

            I think they have.

            And I think we have found that people prefer to look at Facebook or text messages so I don’t think the revolution will be all that big of a deal.

            What they don’t want to do is share cars.

          • rosswilliams

            Bob –

            I agree, people who like to drive their cars are one of the biggest barriers to driverless cars. But people liked their horses too.

            The biggest barrier however is more likely security. Suicidal car bombers will be a thing of the past. They can just send the car without the driver.

            I think the biggest thing people don’t understand about driverless cars is that they will all but eliminate highway congestion. Any new investments in road capacity are going to have been a complete waste of money.

          • John

            My understanding is that they self driving cars (at least the Google version) do see peds/cyclists and react accordingly. I read an article written by a cyclist a couple years ago where they had encountered a self-driving google car out for a training drive, and the car couldn’t figure out how to handle the cyclist doing a track stand at a stop sign, rather than dropping their foot to the ground. The car wouldn’t go, and the cyclist didn’t want to because he/she didn’t have the right of way, and wasn’t sure how the car would react.

            edit: Found the link: http://gizmodo.com/a-cyclists-track-stand-totally-befuddled-one-of-googles-1727024285

          • rosswilliams

            Barton –

            No, they haven’t said they don’t/can’t see pedestrians. They can. You are right, many drivers don’t look for cyclists, the computer operated cars always will. Getting humans out of the driver seat would substantially reduce all kinds of accidents. Cars might even stop for pedestrians in cross walks.

    • Rob

      Yes, life is cheap, as attested by the fact that drivers who kill pedestrians tend to get appallingly light sentences. But what’s that got to do with the above post?

      • Will

        So you didn’t see the full statistics about how common these incidents are? That’s important to note.

        • Rob

          I know they’re very common, so…?

          • Will

            Not everything is about you… others might find those statistics useful/interesting.

          • The original post noted that 1 in 200 drivers in the last 30 years is involved in a crash that killed someone.

          • Rob

            You asked, I answered.

  • Mike Worcester

    I was involved in a crash last summer. A violent high-speed one. Any of us involved (myself; driver and passenger in other vehicle), could have easily been a fatality. I am grateful that did not come to pass. I cannot imagine what Ms. Snowdon went through. I’m guessing few of us can. Take a couple minutes to hear her words. And then think about how we behave on the road.

    • She’s a “her”

      • Mike Worcester

        Fixed. Ty.

  • Rob

    Not sure how yet another PSA urging folks to drive like they should is gonna move the meter.

    • rallysocks

      I don’t either, but the effort has to keep being made. My youngest brother was killed when he was struck by a young woman who was not paying attention to the road nor him in front of her as she attempted to pass the person in front of him on a sharp curve in a no passing zone.

      My mom heard the impact and ran up to the roadway to find her son lying unconscious and broken. He died en-route to Fargo via helicopter. He was 23.

      A full investigation was launched. Against him. My mom found our police chief combing the area looking for my brother’s glasses because he knew he was supposed to be wearing them while driving. He did find them. My brother was blamed for not wearing his helmet. I wish so badly that he would have been, but the jury is still out on whether it would have helped him or would have killed him instantly–which would have robbed us of the last words and hugs that I will always sadly treasure. He always wore his helmet while driving on the highway, but a trip down the road to the gas station didn’t seem to warrant it, I guess.

      The young woman in question went to court and nothing happened to her. She never apologized. She did however continue to drive the vehicle that killed my brother, cracks in the windshield and all and would wave ‘hi’ at us if she happened to pass by us.

      That’s all I’ve got. I won’t be checking back in today–this post has hit too close to home because right now I miss my goofball brother.

      • Rob

        I’m truly sorry to hear about your brother. I’m not against efforts like Snowdon’s; I just don’t think we’ll put much of a dent in the number of riders and pedestrians being killed until, among other things, we make the manslaughter penalties a lot more draconian. For now, life is cheap.

      • crystals

        I can’t upvote this – it’s too real and to raw – but thank you for sharing this part of yourself and your brother in this little corner of the internet. It matters.

    • Jeff C.

      It moved mine. What’s your point?

      • Rob

        If it truly causes a change in your behavior, that’s wonderful.

  • jon

    Lights are required on bicycles at night in Minnesota.
    https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=169.222
    Subdivision 6.

    “(a) No person shall operate a bicycle at nighttime unless the bicycle or its operator is equipped with (1) a lamp which emits a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front;”

    • jon

      And Mass. too.
      https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXIV/Chapter85/Section11B

      (8) During the period from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise, the operator shall display to the front of his bicycle a lamp emitting a white light visible from a distance of at least five hundred feet, and to the rear of said bicycle either a lamp emitting a red light, or a red reflector visible for not less than six hundred feet when directly in front of lawful lower beams of headlamps on a motor vehicle. A generator powered lamp which emits light only when the bicycle is moving shall meet the requirements of this clause.

  • Tyler

    Self-driving vehicles can’t come soon enough.