County Legislator Rachel Barnhart calls on law enforcement agencies to do the following when pedestrians and cyclists are seriously injured or killed by drivers.
- Release the names of victims and drivers.
- Release details such as speed of driver, road conditions, driver’s impairment, vehicle inspection and how the crash happened.
- Discuss reasons for filing or not filing charges against drivers.
“Pedestrians and cyclists are human beings. Their deaths must be investigated in the light of day,” said Barnhart. “The public interest in transparency and accountability in a death investigation outweighs a driver’s interest in privacy.”
Coverage of Issue:
Roderick Cunningham was killed while walking on Parsells Ave., located in the 21st District neighborhood of Beechwood. Police did not release the driver’s name, prompting multiple rumors and furthering distrust of police. Officials, in responding to the rumors, protected themselves and the driver. They again refused to release the driver’s name, which worsened suspicions.
“I understand that the driver may not be at fault and that being involved in a fatal crash is a significant emotional burden,” Barnhart said. “But when we get behind the wheel, we lose our right to privacy. Accident reports are public because the public has an interest in keeping our streets safe.”
Police should immediate release all details related to the crash, including the driver’s identity. Withholding the driver’s name has caused harm to the community.
This case is a clear example of how our society values drivers more than pedestrians and cyclists. Police determined the driver was not at fault, so his identity had to be protected at all costs. No such sensitivity was shown to Cunningham’s family, friends and community members who deserve answers. It is important to note that pedestrians are far more likely to be killed in poor neighborhoods and media coverage is often biased toward drivers.
Barnhart will attempt to organize a public forum with law enforcement officials to discuss how police treat pedestrian and cycling fatalities.
“When we travel, whether on foot, bike or car, we all make mistakes. For pedestrians and cyclists, mistakes are often deadly,” Barnhart said. “We must stop blaming pedestrians and cyclists and treating their deaths as an unavoidable consequence of driving. We can start by treating victims with the same compassion we treat drivers.”
Barnhart has long been an advocate of Vision Zero, a comprehensive plan enacted in municipalities worldwide to reduce traffic deaths through enforcement, education and road design.