Thursday, August 23, 2007

Traffic Justice Coalition of Florida

In Orlando on October 27, 2004, five-year-old Angelica Velez and her two-year-old sister Victoria crossed four-lane Goldenrod Road in a crosswalk with their mother. Ashley Townsend, age 22, ran the red light and killed the two girls as their mother watched in horror. Ashley was allegedly talking on her cell phone at the time. This tragedy brought intense attention in Central Florida to the need for improved motorist behavior and justice in our traffic system, but it was merely one of many such tragedies. The legal outcomes of this and similar incidents should address not only how careless drivers are punished; we must find ways for our justice, engineering, and education systems to help prevent such crashes in the first place.

Poor driving behavior is rampant in Florida. According to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles there are over 120,000 licenses revoked each year, and another 29,000 suspended due to points alone. Over 114,000 motorists were convicted of driving with a suspended or revoked license in 2006; for all types of criminal driving violations there were over 235,000 convictions. 2.8 million non-criminal citations were handed out to Florida drivers in 2006.

Florida’s fatal crash rate is rising while the national rate drops; it is rising faster than our population. The cost of this mayhem falls hardest on our streets’ most vulnerable users – pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists -- but all users of our roads are affected. It is an injustice that we permit the careless and reckless to continue to wield such power, while those who present little or no risk to others are discouraged from using our streets.

The former president of Boston University Dr. John Silber said, “The only standard of performance that can sustain a free society is excellence.” Considering the destructive power wielded by those in motor vehicles, we must raise our expectations. As humans we almost always fall short of our goals, so a goal of mere adequacy in motor vehicle operation inevitably results in too many incompetent motorists. Our goal must be excellence. Dr. Silber went on to ask, “[D]o we have the right as citizens in a free society to reject excellence on behalf of others who may not be so foolish?” No; the vulnerable among us deserve excellence behind the wheel.
Florida Bicycle Association invites you to join us to discuss problems and solutions, to build a coalition with a vision for change and plan for action, at the first Florida Traffic Justice Coalition meeting at the ProBike®/ProWalk Florida Conference in Orlando on August 27th from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Downtown Embassy Suites Hotel, 191 E. Pine Street. While legislative solutions are certainly on the table, we’re looking for more; for creative approaches to changing the culture to one with high expectations for users of our public ways.

The format of the meeting will be as follows:
1:30-2:00 Overview, why we are here, encapsulate issues, break-out instructions
2:00-3:45 Focus groups
3:45-4:00 Break
4:00-4:15 Recap group discussions
4:15-4:30 Next steps

Mohandas Gandhi said, “You must make the injustice visible.” That is the first step. Only when injustice becomes fully visible and the voices of the victims are heard can we understand what is needed to remedy it.

Please join us for this important meeting. There is no fee, however, if you wish to attend the ProBike®/ProWalk Florida Conference, visit for details. Please contact Conference Director Bill Richards at 352-377-8342 or by email at regarding your availability to attend the Florida Traffic Justice Coalition meeting.


Raphael said...

Remebering the news of this crash, went to the Orlando Sentinel's web site and did a little research. This was the first thing I found:

"Ashley Townsend, who pleaded guilty last month to two counts of vehicular homicide, is out of jail nine days sooner than her 30-day sentence. She was released on Monday after 20 days in jail. She received one day credit for the day she was in jail after being booked on the 2004 deaths, five days of gain time under state statute for good behavior, and four days of good time under a county ordinance for work or good behavior. (Townsend, 23, was in protective custody, so she did not work at the Orange County Jail.) Townsend now begins the other parts of her sentence -- including seven years probation -- for running a red light and killing Anjelica Velez, 5, and Victoria Velez, 2. Townsend could have gotten 18 1/2 years in prison under the charges."

As the outcome of this case demostrates, there is very little "justice" when it comes to vehicular homicide. This seems particularly true when non-motorized travelers are involved.

Comparing other sentences, in Florida the average time served for murder or manslaughter in 2005 was 9.4 years. The driver in the deaths of the two Velez girls served 20 days.

That's disgusting.

Keri said...

While Ashley's sentence doesn't begin to achieve justice for Angelica and Victoria or their family, I suspect no civil punishment could be worse than the internal torture of reliving the moments after she hit those girls - the guilt and horror of knowing she killed two innocent children because she wasn't paying attention. That moment of irresponsibility, that mistake, will be with her for the rest of her life. At 22 she became the idiot poster child of irresponsible drivers and a recipient of public ridicule, hatred and scorn. I remember the newscasts. I'm not suggesting she didn't deserve it - she killed two innocent children - but most of us could be grateful that we managed, by shear luck, to escape dire consequences from our own foolish youth - I sure am! It's a thought that often gives me pause - for all the times I was careless, foolish, distracted or in an irrational hurry - thank God there were no innocents in my path.

Hey, what if, in addition to fines (for speeding, running lights, blowing crosswalks, etc.), we could make irresponsible drivers somehow experience that journey - what their lives would be like if they killed someone - the depositions, the trials, the jail time, the guilt? For what? A few seconds? A phone call? ... Virtual Reality Traffic School, let's get some gamers on that :-)

Khal said...

Last fall, James Quinn was killed on his bike on Old Route 66 near Albuquerque. A motorist tried to pass several cyclists including Quinn but was apparently headed towards an oncoming car while doing so. Motorist swerved back to the right and all the way onto the shoulder, rear-ending Quinn and killing him. No citation was issued. I'm putting out a similar call for Traffic Justice to the New Mexico Bicycling Coalition.

Khal said...

Keri has an excellent idea. Perhaps drivers convicted of serious moving violations should be sentenced to having to sit through a vehicular homicide trial. I think that would wake at least a few folks up.