Thursday, October 30, 2008


"Sorry about your accident. my mommy fells really bad for you. so Soory!" An apology written to Meri Nalbandyan from the daughter of the woman who had killed her. The mother had dropped her own (letter-writer) daughter off at school moments earlier. In a moment of inattentiveness, she drove her SUV at 10 mph over 11 year old Meri at the mid-block crosswalk pictured below.
As I wrote in Walking and Biking, "Stop the madness". Traffic accident statistics prove time and time again, children who are hit by cars near schools are usually hit by cars driven by people picking up or dropping kids off at school. If more kids walk or bike to school, there would be fewer cars in a dangerous scrum around schools every morning.

The comments accompanying the LA Times story are dispiritingly illogical. One blamed cell phones even the story explicitly states that the driver was not using a cell phone at the time. Another comment said that kids were being murdered and kidnapped so much more these days, there was no alternative to chauffeuring them to school. No one dares to suggest that we get the cars out of the school zone.

Going off on a tangent...

I also mentioned in Walking and Biking that today's automobile fleet has much larger blind spots. The driver that killed Meri plowed a SUV straight into her, mid-block. The high, broad and flat hoods of SUVs create a larger blind spot in front of the driver than a car closer to the ground. (Even though a 11 year old would likely be taller than the hood, less would be visible, especially to a distracted driver.)

Minivans have smaller blind spots in front of them because their hoods are much shorter and slope down so steeply. Minivans are wedges on wheels, which is why they enjoy higher gas mileage than the blockier SUVs. In addition, the engines of minivans ride much lower than those of SUVs, giving minivans a lower center of gravity, decreasing their likelihood to roll over (relative to SUVs).

The companies that foisted SUVs upon the public as the family vehicle of choice are on life support. Explain to me why we shouldn't pull the plug.


  1. The hazard around schools is exacerbated by school policies that differ from those of years past. My son's school requires parents to drop off no more than 10 minutes before the start of the school day! Apparently, schools no longer are willing to provide playground supervision for 20 or 30 minutes before school starts.

    Additionally, students are not allowed to enter the playground, but have to wait on the sidewalk. In an out of control car situation, the sidewalk is certainly more hazardous than the playground.


    "Minivans are wedges on wheels, which is why they enjoy higher gas mileage than the blockier SUVs."

    SUVs have a drivetrain heritage descended from trucks, which are optimized for torque, not efficiency or horsepower. This makes them intrinsically inefficient around town. Should they ever see dirt or mud, however, they beat the pants off of a minivan. But how many do?

  2. Anonymous09:47

    This is probably a completely inappropriate comment for such a tragic situation, but am I the only one wondering why a middle school student can't spell sorry or accident?

  3. Anonymous12:16

    A general comment on SUV's - I find
    some of the worst drivers on the
    road are in SUV's - speeding,
    cutting other drivers off, not
    signaling, tailgating.

    I wish they could be banned,

  4. Well, I think we should just let them go down, so I can't help you on that one.

    As for the accident, it is tragic. But I having witnessed the mayhem around my local schools at pick up and drop off time, I can see how it could happen. And I am not even surprised at the illogical comments -- cell phones -- It seems easier for most people to blame something or someone else than to face the idea that they or the accepted standards are incorrect.

  5. Anonymous16:56

    Oh, please. How many times have I been cutoff by a Prius? Prius drivers seem to think that being in a small vehicle gives them the go-ahead to zip in and out of lanes, cut people off, and then speed off smug with the knowledge of their fuel economy despite their own hypocrisy.

  6. I've seen plenty of vehicles cut others off. Some of it is bad behavior, but part of it is bad vehicle design. SUVs and Priuses both suffer from poor rear sight lines.

  7. Brent is right about the current school policies. They compress all the activity to a 10-15 minute morning time window. Both parents are now also rushing off to work, dropping the kids off by car on their way to work.

    Schools also have more children now than when they were originally designed. (Iris' school has added many "temporary" classrooms.)


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