The trial of Steven Conley, the man who killed Nusrat Jahan while she was biking legally along the Laurier Segregated Bike Lane, has been going on this week. The details are horrible. The descriptions of the sights and sounds of Conley running of Jahan with his truck are gruesome. The evidence is clearly stacked against him (probably because he fucking recklessly killed a woman), but he’ll probably get off.
His basic defense (from the CBC Ottawa coverage):
“When the light turned green, before I turned, I looked in the mirrors three times and then I looked again in my mirror on the hood and then I went ahead,” Conley said. He told Gendron he always waits a “few seconds” before turning.
“I didn’t see her at all. She came out of nowhere, and if I’d seen her I would have stopped,” he said. “It’s not something you want to see, someone under your truck.”
If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know I have a lot to say about the “she came out of nowhere” bullshit, and, don’t worry, I have more to say about that.
Right now, though, I want to address the “I looked in the mirrors three times and then I looked again…” part of his testimony.
He says he couldn’t see her. And he’ll probably get off because he was driving a big truck and it has more challenging sightlines (though the prosecution demonstrating that driving a big truck does not actually preclude you from seeing a bicyclist in the bike lane).
Drivers often say they don’t see the people or things they hit. They often talk about people coming out of nowhere–which is always bullshit; no one comes out of nowhere. They’ll say they looked and though it was clear to go.
This is the crux of it: looking isn’t enough.
Drivers talk about checking blindspots and checking mirrors, and, yes, no doubt they look in them. But studies and anecdotes have demonstrated that drivers can look right at someone and then just run them down. You’ll be crossing a street, a driver will be staring right at you and then they’ll just start driving, because though they were checking, though they were looking, they weren’t seeing anything.
Because looking isn’t enough. You need to be aware.
Pedestrians and bicyclists tend to understand this, especially if you’re on a busy street. There are cars and drivers all over the place, and you can never trust them to be safe.
You know the car at the intersection ahead might be turning, even though they have no signal on.
You know the driver at the corner might just drive through the intersection, even though you have the right-of-way.
You know you can’t trust the benevolence, consideration, ability or attentiveness of anyone wielding two tonnes of metal in our city. So you have to be aware. And, as someone not in a car, you are more aware. You see more. You hear more. You are more engaged with the street around you.
I mean, cars are fucking marketed to keep drivers disengaged from the road–you can’t feel anything, you can’t hear anything, and you can accelerate easily and without care.
If you’re driving beside a busy bike lane, you need to pay attention to the bicyclists. If you pass a bicyclist, be aware that they’ll catch up with you if you slow down. If you’re sitting at a red light waiting for it to change, be aware that there might be bicyclists coming up from behind you, right in the place they’re legally allowed and told to be.
If you’re at a busy downtown intersection, know that people will be crossing the street. Realize that the person walking towards the intersection may turn and cross in the crosswalk (because, again, that’s where they’re told to cross). Be aware that people come out of buildings, that they walk at varying speeds and that they are allowed to try to live their lives without offering a lake of blood to the driving gods.
So, yeah, maybe Steven Conley “looked” in his mirrors three or four times. Maybe he “checked” everything before he turned (illegally, without signalling). But his excuse is really an indictment. It’s clear he wasn’t paying attention to the street around him. He wasn’t aware of what was going on.
He had no idea who was beside him and yet he drove, anyway, utterly destroying a person–snuffing out her life with a loud pop.
We have insulated, figuratively and literally, drivers from the ramifications of their actions and their negligence. We’ve given them no reason to feel they need to be aware of their surroundings, driving with the caution their motorized weapons demand. We tell them they should look, but we never worry about them being aware.
And people like Nusrat Jahan are dead because of it.