CONTACTTRAFFICABOUT TOM VANDERBILTOTHER WRITING CONTACT ABOUT THE BOOK

10,000 Pedestrian Injuries Is a Statistic, One is…

Ozier Muhammad, the New York TimesA few weeks ago, while driving in New York City, I witnessed something I hadn’t seen in nearly two decades of living here: A pedestrian struck by a car. I wrote about the experience, and its repercussions, in the New York Times.

One section that got cut from the piece, for space, was a brief chat I had with Dr. Lewis Goldfrank, who is, among other things, the Director of Emergency Medicine at Bellevue Hospital. He mentioned that that facility’s trauma section sees roughly 15 people a day involved in “motor vehicle crashes” (like many in the medical profession, Goldfrank eschews use of the word “accident,” as many of these instances involved quite preventable circumstances, like alcohol or speed). He also stressed how the seemingly fleeting injuries picked up in a crash can have lingering effects. “Even contusions, concussions, and transient loss of consciousness can prevent return to normal activity,” is how he put it.

Thanks again to Bart Dellarmi for talking about his difficult experience, and here’s to his speedy recovery.

The full story is below the jump as well.

New York Observed
Out of Nowhere, a Thud, and Then Blood
Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times
By TOM VANDERBILT
Published: June 1, 2008

IT was late morning, a few Sundays ago. My wife and I were returning to Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, via car, from tea and scones in Greenwich Village. At the approach to the intersection of Chambers and Centre Streets, right next to City Hall Park and close to the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, we pulled up to a line of cars stopped at the light.

A cluster of television news vans was parked on the sidewalk for a news conference. Near one of the vans, a reporter was using the rectangular rear-view as a makeup mirror. My wife and I idly watched as she finished her touch-ups and started to cross the street.

Then something else entered the scene, a jarring rush of imagery and sound that came so fast, I fathomed what had happened only once it was over. I saw a blurred upright form, bent as it was thrust over the hood of a car, accompanied by a thud that was audible even through the rolled-up windows of our car. My wife burst instantly into tears.

At once people were attending to the figure, a man who I surmised to be in his 50s, lying prone in front of the car, looking dazed but with his eyes open. As the cars ahead of me began to creep forward — too quickly, too heartlessly, I remember thinking — I too headed forward, as if on autopilot. Moving past the car that had hit the man, its driver still inside, I noticed with a shudder the jagged veins of its shattered windshield.

Over the next few days, I kept seeing the scene in my head. But I saw other things too. I had a memory of the man emerging from a line of waiting cars on Centre Street, outside the crosswalk, moving from east to west. My wife insisted that he was inside the crosswalk, moving from east to west. I had a sense that hers was the correct version, as I had been focused almost entirely on the television reporter, but where had my version come from?

Still troubled by my fragmented recollection of the event, I searched for news of the accident. Only one small item on the Internet gave the bare facts: The victim was Bart Dellarmi, a freelance cameraman, who had been taken to Bellevue Hospital Center with head and leg injuries.

I was interested for another reason. For the past few years, I have been researching a book on traffic, part of which concerns safety. I knew logically that some version of what I had seen — a pedestrian involved in a traffic accident — happened, for example, some 10,840 times in New York City in 2004, a year when 155 pedestrians were killed, according to a study by the CUNY Institute for Transportation Systems.

Until one actually sees someone struck by a car, however, these statistics are taken on a kind of grim, remote faith, like being aware of the rate of deforestation in the Amazon. And there is another issue: Since a car striking a person is a relatively rare occurrence, we are not likely to see such accidents often; conversely, since such accidents do occur so often, they are not treated as news.

But even a “minor” accident, I learned a few days later when I reached Mr. Dellarmi at his home in Cold Spring, N.Y., one below the radar of news and police attention, sets in motion a chain of great consequences. Mr. Dellarmi, whose left knee absorbed the initial impact (his head subsequently struck the windshield), cannot walk, and he faces reconstructive knee surgery and an uncertain climb through rehab.

“It’s very distressing to me,” he said on the phone. “I’m a very active person, I do a lot of hiking upstate. I’m also out in the field every day as a cameraman. I’m in my mid-50s. I don’t know if my healing powers are what they were.”

At the moment I called, Mr. Dellarmi was still trying to piece together what had happened and to reconstruct his conversation with a television reporter. “The last thing I remember saying was: ‘Are you ready? Let’s go.’ ” Then he began to cross — in the crosswalk and with the signal, he said.

HE knew what had happened instantly. He saw the pieces of his camera strewn across the street, along with his own blood. “I just looked down at my leg,” he said, “and it was going in different directions and stuff. And I looked up at my reporter and said, ‘Karen, I need to hold your hand.’ ”

The next thing Mr. Dellarmi knew, he was lying on his back at Bellevue. He remembers, as a person who works with images, trying to visually process what was happening: “You’re seeing half the doctor’s face upside down. This whole scenario was like something out of a Fellini movie.”

Mr. Dellarmi is aware of the irony of someone who has covered any number of traffic accidents — always angling to get the key shot of technicians lifting the gurney into the ambulance — actually being in one. And then he tells me of a profound loss, 12 years ago. His own son, a high school senior, was killed instantly when his car went out of control on a wet road and hit another vehicle head-on.

Bart Dellarmi needs no instruction in the dangers of the road. But as I make my way around New York, I often wonder how much the rest of us do. Research has shown that when a car strikes a pedestrian at 20 miles an hour, 9 times out of 10 the pedestrian will survive. But raise that speed to 30 miles an hour, and the survival rate drops to 50 percent.

In this context, New York’s default speed limit of 30 miles an hour through crowded streets seems a public health hazard. And had the vehicle that struck Mr. Dellarmi been an SUV, his chance of being killed would have doubled.

Mr. Dellarmi hopes to return to work soon. But doing so will require overcoming more than a physical hurdle. “Right now what I’m struggling with, to be perfectly honest, is that’s an intersection I’ve crossed many times in the past, and I don’t know how I’m going to feel when I go back there,” he said. “I cover stories at City Hall all the time. I know the time is going to come when I’m going to have go back.”

Tom Vanderbilt’s book “Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)” will be published in July by Knopf.

This entry was posted on Monday, June 2nd, 2008 at 1:16 pm and is filed under Pedestrians, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Slate.com Transport column to me at: info@howwedrive.com.

For publicity inquiries, please contact Kate Runde at Vintage: krunde@randomhouse.com.

For editorial inquiries, please contact Zoe Pagnamenta at The Zoe Pagnamenta Agency: zoe@zpagency.com.

For speaking engagement inquiries, please contact
Kim Thornton at the Random House Speakers Bureau: rhspeakers@randomhouse.com.

Order Traffic from:

Amazon | B&N | Borders
Random House | Powell’s

U.S. Paperback UK Paperback
Traffic UK
Drive-on-the-left types can order the book from Amazon.co.uk.

For UK publicity enquiries please contact Rosie Glaisher at Penguin.

Upcoming Talks

April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
Bloomington, MN

June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana

June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands

July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Phoenix, AZ.

August 12-14
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
San Antonio, Texas

September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
Savannah, Georgia

September 11, 2009
Oregon Transportation Summit
Portland, Oregon

October 8
Honda R&D Americas
Raymond, Ohio

October 10-11
INFORMS Roundtable
San Diego, CA

October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
San Bernardino, CA

November 5
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Uncasville, Connecticut

January 6
Texas Transportation Forum
Austin, TX

January 19
Yale University
(with Donald Shoup; details to come)

Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
Eero Saarinen Lecture

Friday, March 19
University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation

April 5-7
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
McMurrin Lectureship

April 19
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
Austin, Texas

Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Edmonton, Canada

Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Wednesday, July 6
Fondo de Prevención Vial
Bogotá, Colombia

Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Perth, Australia

Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Canberra, Australia

Wednesday, September 22

Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Program
Statewide Conference
Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wednesday, October 20
Rutgers University
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Piscataway, NJ

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum
Toronto

Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California

Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
Brisbane, Australia

April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
Sydney, Australia

April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne, Australia

January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
Minneapolis, MN

January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
Melbourne, Australia

May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
Transportation Engineers
Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013
BoingBoing.com “Ingenuity” Conference
San Francisco, CA

September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
(Meeting of American Association
of State Highway and Transportation
Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Communications.
Grand Rapids MI

 

 

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