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Who is at Fault?

Reading this mornings paper, I bumped into an article that could have been a copy of something that happened about 20 years ago. Apparently a kid (14 years old) was skateboarding down the middle of the street with some friends. A bus was stuck behind him, and had to move into the oncoming traffic lane to pass him. Something happened, and the kid got hit by the bus. 4 days later, he died from his injuries.

            It is always tragic when a child dies. I have a lot of sympathy for this boy’s parents. BUT (there’s always a but….) what was this child doing skateboarding in the street? The area where the accident occurs does have a sidewalk. Even if there was a rational reason for the kid to be skateboarding in the street, why did he think it was OK to block traffic? This wasn’t a quiet residential street – it is a fairly well traveled street that frequently sees heavy traffic.

            When I was a college student, one of the many jobs I held was a transit bus driver. The area that I drove in was fairly typical semi-rural New England – medium sized towns with a lot of green space between them. The larger of the local towns had a very busy downtown, with a 4 lane road through the middle of it. Skateboarding was a chronic problem in the area, with frequent accidents caused by kids skateboarding on the street. There were also a lot of pedestrian accidents where skateboarders would run into walkers, or fall off their board and shoot into a crowd, often causing injuries. The problem was sever enough that the town decided to build a skate park, and prohibit skateboarding in the downtown area. A first offence carried a $500 dollar fine, then $1,000, $1,500, and increasingly sever penalties (for habitual offenders, I think there was even the potential for jail). The towns people obviously felt very strongly about this issue. Despite the fact that there was a skate park built about a block outside of downtown, the problem didn’t go away. The police were fairly aggressive in their enforcement and managed to reduce the problem significantly, but it never really stopped being a serious problem in the downtown area.

            One day, a kid on a skateboard shot out into the street from between a couple of parked cars, and was instantly killed by a transit bus. Keep in mind that these transit busses weigh about 10 tons, and just don’t stop on a dime. According to witnesses, the bus was traveling at about 20 miles an hour – under the 25 MPH speed limit – and the kid entered the street less than 5 feet in front of the bus. In this case, the bus driver (whom I knew) was not charged. As a matter of fact, the town fined the dead kid. It turns out he had been busted four or five times for skateboarding down town, and was well known to be a major hazard to both pedestrians and traffic. The kids parents sued the town to attempt to have the fine dropped. The town refused to negotiate, and the resulting media circus lasted for about 3 months – until the hearing ended. The finding was that not only was the town justified in fining the (now deceased) kid, but that the parents had to pay the legal costs the town had incurred in defending itself from a frivolous lawsuit. The finding stated that the parents were certainly aware that their son had been a hazard (the parents had paid the kids previous fines, bailed him out of jail, etc.), and that they shared responsibility for the boys action ns because they had failed to control him.

            I don’t know the details of the more recent death, but I have to wonder: what makes these kids think its OK to play in traffic? I have to admit that I’m not at all surprised that something like this has happened – anyone who drives in this area knows that many kids (and adults) on bikes and skateboards will frequently block the roads – often three or four abreast – and make no effort to get out of the way when there is traffic behind them. My sympathies go out to the parents of this boy, but my real sympathies lie with the busdriver.

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One Response

  1. My sympathies are with the driver, too, and for many of the reasons you state.

    As far as whose fault it is – I have to come back to the parents. I know it sounds cruel and harsh, but this boy’s parents DID NOT teach him well enough that there are certain rules and, moreover, that those rules are in place for VERY GOOD REASONS.

    Case in point: the Chili family is in posession of new bicycles. We’re very much looking forward to biking together this summer. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US has a helmet. We’re teaching the girls about the rules of the road not only when we’re on bikes, but when we’re driving, as well; I explain to them why I stop where I do and how to merge into traffic and the right-on-red rule and how to work traffic circles and four way stops. How do I know I’m doing my job and not just nattering into the air? There’s a family in our neighborhood who bike together. Mom has a helmet. The two boys have helmets. The baby on the back of dad’s bike has a helemt. Dad? No helmet. My daughters point him out as breaking the rules, and the other day Beanie, my 8 year old, told me that she wouldn’t be surprised if the boys stop wearing their helmets when they start biking on their own. “Why should they wear them,” she asked, “if they see their dad doesn’t?”

    Indeed.

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