No, traffic accidents aren't accidents. They're unacceptable and preventable.

By Aaron Brown of Portland, Oregon. Aaron is is the board president of Oregon Walks, the state's pedestrian advocacy organization. He also works as the Outreach Coordinator for the Bus Project, and spends his time fixing flat tires on his bicycle and collecting scarves from the Portland Timbers.

How many neighbors, co-workers, members of family, or children are you willing to lose to traffic violence in your community?

According to the recent editorial published by The Oregonian, (When a tragic accident is just a tragic accident, May 9th), families across the state of Oregon should simply accept the fact our public right of way is prioritized for the convenience of automobile traffic. Accept the occasional collateral of fatal collisions. Accept the crash in Springfield this February that claimed the lives of 4-year old Tyler Hudson, 5-year-old McKenzie Hudson, and 8-year-old John Day. Accept this as inevitable.

While describing the tragic loss, the editorial board laments that Oregon “can't prosecute away risk or engineer safety in a way that overcomes the inevitable boneheaded mistakes that people make, even when their full attention should be on the deadly weapon they are piloting down the street.”

The Oregonian’s statement of acquiescence to an unacceptable status quo is not only ethically problematic; it’s also demonstrably untrue.

Communities across the United States are adopting increasingly rigorous initiatives that pledge to eliminate street fatalities. “Vision Zero,” pioneered in Sweden, calls on us to fundamentally reconsider our public streets and no longer accept that these crashes are simply ‘accidents’ - but rather that they are a flaw of our system, and of how our society has come to think of whose safety is prioritized in our public right of way. By implementing Vision Zero policies and acutely committing to investment in street safety, the entire country of Sweden registered one single pedestrian fatality for children under 12 in 2012; by contrast, the city of Eugene alone tripled that just two months into the calendar year with this collision. Vision Zero policies have demonstrated they work. Until Oregon’s cities and government agencies take street safety seriously, these collisions are hardly “accidents,” but rather the bleak consequences of misplaced priorities.

We know the root causes of these intolerable accidents, but currently, we’re unwilling to invest in the basic mechanisms for prevention. Here in Portland, transportation planners and policy leaders have remarkable data that indicates we know what contributes to these awful, avoidable deaths, and that we must systematically target unsafe streets, lax traffic enforcement and underinvested neighborhood streets to prevent this from continuing to happen.

It is true that there is a lot of work to be done to ensure that Vision Zero policies are implemented successfully, effectively and fairly in Oregon. We need to ensure that increased police enforcement of traffic laws don’t disproportionately target communities of color and we need to prioritize spending in the most underserved neighborhoods that lack basic infrastructure. This will require serious political leadership, and we have to hold ourselves accountable to the actions we make every single day when traveling on our public streets.

But ultimately, I disagree with The Oregonian: the legislative, prosecutorial and engineering efforts encouraged by Oregon Walks and our partners can and actively should be implemented to eliminate traffic fatalities on our streets. With the driver of the truck legally cleared for the violent deaths of three children, we have larger questions to ask about what sort of communities we live in -- where children can’t safely cross the street without certainty of making it to the other side.

I encourage you to ask yourself if this diagnosis of “accident” would be tolerable if it were your child, if this happened on your street, to your own family and loved ones. I personally reject street fatalities as inevitable, and I’m not willing to accept we are helpless to eliminate traffic fatalities in Oregon. Families who have lost loved ones to traffic violence across the state reach the same conclusion.

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