Crack Down on Drivers, Not iPods

garbage_truck.jpgTwo pedestrians were killed in New York City last December by private sanitation trucks, one on Park Avenue South in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn Heights. Both deaths followed the most common pattern of pedestrian death in New York -- the peds were crossing the street, in the crosswalk, with the light, and a turning vehicle ran over them.

Comes now State Senator Carl Kruger of Brooklyn, with a proposal -- not to crack down on killer garbage trucks, but to fine pedestrians $100 for crossing a street while wearing an iPod or using a cell phone. This because, according to Kruger, in the last six months two pedestrians listening to iPods were killed when they stepped in front of vehicles. Not much information is available on these deaths -- like, for example, who had the right of way. But let's roll with it, because we have a chance here to explore the institutionalized dementia of our city's thinking about traffic and its perils.

And true to form, the local media play the fool with cheap shots at foolish pedestrians or nanny-state legislators, or both, and miss the real story -- as usual.

On Saturday, the Times joined the fray with an editorial, "The iNanny Alert". Here's an excerpt:

Too many [pedestrians] fail to see or hear that van coming around the corner or that wayward car, which turn out to be far more important to their health and welfare than whatever is on their electronic gizmos.

That "van coming around the corner" is required by law to yield the right of way. And "wayward car" is a startlingly indulgent phrase for speeding, weaving, bullying and other kinds of deadly -- and illegal -- driving. Where's the indignation about dangerous driving? Oops, I spoke too soon, here it is:

Far too many traffic officers fail to hand out tickets to bicyclists who don't follow the rules or to those behind the wheel who speed a few centimeters past a law-abiding pedestrian's toes.

Tickets to bicyclists?

What have we done now? It's like Menachem Begin said once, in a different context: Goyim kill goyim, and they come to hang the Jews. In this case, it's drivers kill peds, and while Kruger wants to hang the peds, the Times wants to hang some... cyclists. Really, you can't make this stuff up.

But the Times can always be relied on to get things wrong in more ways than one. The tut-tut quoted above also blames traffic non-enforcement on indifferent "traffic officers." That's like blaming the Iraq fiasco on the grunts in Falluja. Like everything concerning policing in New York City, policy is set at the top -- at police headquarters and City Hall.

But let me get back to Sen. Kruger. By one estimate, there are 3,600 private garbage trucks in our town. (Sanitation Department trucks, it should be noted, have a far better safety record.) iPod wearers number hundreds of times more, and they endanger no one, whereas private sanitation trucks, according to at least one study, kill more pedestrians, mile per mile, than any other class of vehicle. But Kruger thinks the problem is the iPod, and nobody -- nobody in the media, nobody in government -- has a clue just how crazy this is. Because although Kruger is an exceptionally clownish figure, the venerable college of pontificators at the Times shares his fundamental premise: drivers must be indulged, and anybody who gets in their way constitutes, not just a problem, but the problem.

Photo: Robbi Baba on Flickr