Death by wearing black at night

This is one story that really caught me eye and struck a note of “companionship” for me.

Woman who struck and killed teen is suing his family …

Most people who read this story or heard about it on the news immediately lambasted the driver for this seemingly overboard response.  On the surface, you have to think the woman who is driver of the SUV is totally lacking in compassion and out of her mind to proceed like this!

But let’s take a brief moment and see if we can’t get further in than the first emotions that surface associated with the death of a teenager and look at what really happened and where responsibility truly falls.

A person, in this case a woman, is driving along a road at night and assuming they’re not texting or otherwise being distracted,  hits a couple of cyclists that came out of nowhere!  Literally, out of nowhere!  They were biking at night, had on dark clothing, had NO reflective gear of any kind and were essentially invisible until they appeared in the range of her headlights, which was too late to take effective evasive action.

Let’s remove the actual hitting of the bikers from the situation for a moment.  Let’s say the driver was able to avoid hitting the cyclists, but just barely, had to swerve and maybe almost “cause” an accident by hitting a car in the oncoming lane.  And that she was killed, or injured or caused injury to others in the oncoming car. Or that everyone ended up being ok, just a quick swerve, no harm done to anyone.

Has this ever happened to you?  Well it has to me, numerous times, and not just with cyclists, but with pedestrians, too.  They literally appear out of nowhere.  And not just while I’m driving; also while I’m riding my bike.  And I get really angry at them.  Not just because they almost caused me to have an accident, but also because the last thing I want to do in this life is to cause harm to someone else, especially a person that I have no relationship or history with.  Be different if they had murdered my sister, but these folks are total strangers and I just want them all to have great lives and do wonderful things on this planet.  And now I’ve hit one of them, all because I was traveling in a perfectly normal way and paying as much attention as I could to ALL the input I’m receiving while driving or cycling.

I often yell out at them “You’re invisible! You just came out of nowhere!  Think about that!!” and proceed on.  Might even flip them a “bird” if they don’t even acknowledge me.

Let’s also look at where this is happening, in this case, in Toronto, Canada.  Canada and other northern cities are dark places at night and it gets darker earlier.  It also rains a lot, visibility is often limited and most folks think nothing of it.  Just look around you and you will see a LOT of people wearing dark colours ; blacks, dark browns, purples etc.  They don’t wear bright yellows, reds, blues, and pinks as a general rule.  Those are more “Southern” colours where the sun shines. Vancouver, where I live, especially just seems to like black or dark for clothes.  Granted, dark clothing often makes you look good, coordinates well with just about anything, and is easy for the designers.  But here’s the downside; it makes you invisible at night.  Really invisible.

I can’t tell you how many times I have cursed other cyclists when I almost run into them, even on the bike paths, because they have no lights on their bikes, no reflectors, aren’t wearing helmets and are wearing dark clothes.  They literally come out of nowhere and if you don’t have a very quick response time, you run into them.  Same goes for pedestrians and they’re often even worse because they often have an attitude that you should be giving way to them because they’re on foot so have some a priori right of way and just walk out in front of you as if that’s what they should be doing.

For people driving cars, it’s obviously way worse.  Your response time is often down to less than a second between when the person enters your horizon of visibility and your acting to avoid colliding with them.

Ok, now you’ve hit someone that came out of nowhere.  How do you feel?  Well, I know I would feel terrible and angry.  Both!  Terrible.  Angry.  Guilty. Remorseful. Angry.  And a host of other emotions.

Think about it.  You just killed someone for no apparent reason other than the fact that they gave no thought to their own visibility.  I would be absolutely devastated.  I know I would be in tears and in a state of shock and I’m not sure how well I would be able to carry on for quite a while after that.  I certainly wouldn’t be able to drive my car at night, if at all, for quite some time.  I might even get rid of the car so as not to have it “trigger” the memory of that event.  So yes, I would be in trauma of some kind.

I would also do whatever I could to convey my sorrows to the loved ones of the “victims” of the accident.  And here’s where it gets a bit tricky.

I remember an accident I did have where I ran into an older man who was crossing the street against the light.  I was coming down a hill on my bike and had the light and was going through the intersection when he came out of nowhere, and this was in broad daylight!  He hadn’t seen me coming down the hill, thought the intersection was clear and started walking across the street right when I was cruising through the intersection.  I ran into him, he went down and was unconscious for a while with a bit of bleeding from a head wound.  Bystanders called an ambulance for him and got me off the street and into a nearby school where I could sit and recover from my brief state of shock and the shaking I was undergoing. I went careening head over heels over the handlebars of my bike, got all scraped and bruised in multiple places.  It was a good thing I had my helmet on, which I always do when I’m biking.  After that, I changed my route to work and couldn’t cross that intersection on my bike for a couple of years afterwards.  I did get in touch with the man’s family and both of us were basically ok but it could have been otherwise.  So I have some experience with this kind of situation, and the emotions that arise.

I do take that route again now and I always proceed with extra care through that intersection.  Certainly I was partly responsible for careening into him.  I fully accepted that but he was also responsible for walking into the intersection against the light.  Neither of us were really victims.

I don’t believe that anyone is ever 100% a victim.  Especially not in a situation like this.  These were teens riding their bikes.  Did their parents allow them to ride their bikes in the street at night without wearing a helmet or having reflective gear on both their bodies and on the bikes?  If that wasn’t enforced, then a portion of the responsibility should fall on the parents for my trauma.  There are consequences to actions, both those that are taken and those that are ignored.

Let’s assume the parents communicated all that stuff to their kids about safety, lights, reflectors but the kids think that’s just not COOL.  And it’s such a royal pain in the butt to bother with all that so they just go out and do what kids do, ignore what their parents tell them.  Now who is to blame?  Well, the teenager has to shoulder a large portion of the blame for what just happened to them, don’t you think?  This young man, Brandon Majewski, was 17 years old!  In another year or so, he would be able to vote in elections.  Surely he has to be responsible for his decisions and actions and be ready to accept the inevitable consequences of his actions, both good and bad?

You may not agree but I think in this case he is totally responsible for his actions when riding a bike at night.  He chose not to ride safely, was struck as a consequence of his decisions, and now he is deceased.  What a horrible consequence!!  But it IS a consequenceof HIS actions, not just the driver’s who hit him.

What about the driver?  Remember the driver who ran into Brandon?  She didn’t kill him, not literally in the sense of setting out to cause him any harm at all.  This was not a premeditated act to bring about a death. He’s dead because he created a situation that resulted in that.  And the driver is now left with all kinds of unforeseen consequences, one of which is quite possibly post-traumatic stress disorder.  Who is taking care of her needs?

Well, she is.  She’s suing the parents of the boy who caused her this distress.  Everyone needs to take some responsibility and blame at some level here but looking at the situation from a somewhat objective viewpoint, I’d say that she is the the least responsible of the 3 parties and certainly deserves compensation for what happened to her.

Ideally, what I’d envision is that she and the parents could get together and commiserate and all show compassion for each other’s feelings but that doesn’t seem to have happened.  And no one came forward offering to help her deal with what’s happened to her; to pay for counseling, medications if needed, compensation for lost hours at work and whatever else may have arisen from the media attention.  So she’s taken the matter into her own hands, and is proceeding along the path that she sees as the most reasonable.

Personally, I applaud her for that.  It may be seen as uncaring and lacking in compassion for the boy’s family but I see it as taking care of herself.  No one else is going to help her out so she has to help herself.  And this is the help she has decided will be therapeutic for her.

I think our society needs to pay attention to this and give her credit for her actions.  She is not acting wrongly here.  She is acting out of self preservation.

Again, think about this situation from her point of view.  Put yourself in that driver’s seat and think about how it would affect you and how you would deal with it.  I don’t think I would sue and I know not everyone would take her actions but everyone has a different set of life experiences that inform the actions they take and for her, this may appear as the best and the only solution.

That’s all I really ask here.  Just take a moment to sit with the whole situation before you lash out emotionally at someone. We’d all be a lot better off if people did that a little more often.

Wishing compassion for everyone,



2 thoughts on “Death by wearing black at night

  1. Rich ,
    I’m having a hard time agreeing with you on this one.
    First off let me say something similar nearly happened to me. It was February at 4:45 am. Pouring rain and pitch black out. A woman dressed all in black with a black umbrella ran out from the sidewalk right in front on me. There was no crosswalk. I just enough time to hit the brakes to avoid hitting her. Pure & simple stupidity on her part. My heart was pounding a mile a minute!
    Now this brings me to a point you posted and I quote; “were essentially invisible until they appeared in the range of her headlights, which was too late to take effective evasive action.”
    This is what I have trouble with. It is up to ALL drivers’ bike or car, to drive responsively and with care. Case in point you have to drive at a safe speed & within the range of your headlights. On the same stretch of road (in Port Moody) I have had black bears dart out from the woods at the side of the road.
    Distracted drivers in the lower mainland are a real issue that needs to be addressed. I also feel many drivers get complacent behind the wheel and forget to expect the unknown. I know I do at times. I have been driving for 45 years without an accident caused by myself. My father ( a long haul truck driver with over 2 million safe driving miles) taught me to scan the mirrors , sides of the road every 7 seconds and always leave yourself an out . It’s just a habit with me.
    One other point I would like to make is the level of skills at the driver training schools. They don’t seem to include inclement weather rain/snow/fog/ wet roads. I’ve seen a number of instructors in their cars, alone, and frankly it’s not what I would consider good driving.
    Just because the posted speed limit is 40KPH doesn’t mean on a dark rainy day/night one should be driving that fast. Remember this is the “recommended “speed limit.


    1. Russ, you make good points, and ones that I thought I had made but not strong enough, apparently. Yes, she does have to take responsibility for hitting Brandon but is the responsibility entirely hers? I would state no, Brandon also had responsibilities in this situation. Neither of them “owned” ALL their responsibilities completely and fully and so both are responsible, as are the parents for not ensuring their son would take such risks. You point that out quite nicely by your example of your father teaching you the responsible way to drive. What did these parents teach their son about how to bike at night?

      Also, to respond to the “too late to take evasive action”. There are situations that can arise where the time to react is not enough unless you are actually not moving. Deers jump in front of your headlights, people come running out on the street after a ball etc. I can think of lots of other situations where you don’t always have enough time and maybe we will have to agree to disagree on that one.

      I wasn’t taught to drive in Canada so I can’t comment on what I see about the driver training schools here. In fact, I took Driver education as part of my high school education and was taught the recommended safety precautions for the times (1960s!!) which have certainly changed since then. Instructors can be certified to teach driving but do all schools hire only certified drivers? I don’t know the answer to this question.

      Maybe that will be another blog post; how over 60% of drivers in North America rate themselves as above average drivers! (somebody is not telling the truth)


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