Honoring Victims and Survivors of Traffic Violence
November 15th is World Remembrance Day for Road Traffic Victims. This is for Michael Hedges, whom I did not have the chance to know, and for survivors of traffic violence here and everywhere. I do not pretend to know the grief of those who were involved in the events of October 31st or those who knew Michael personally; I simply seek to offer my perspective as someone who has suffered great loss as the result of a vehicular crash.
On the morning of November 1st, I awoke, as we all did, to a slew of emails and, subsequently, with a heavy heart. The news was devastating. Amidst grief, I felt disillusioned. I thought I could finish my time at Skidmore living out the fantasy I had created out of necessity during my freshman year. Cars can’t hurt me here, I’d tell myself. No one gets hit in Saratoga. You’re safe here. Since learning of Michael’s death, and Toby and Oban’s injuries, my deepest wish is that I hadn’t been so wrong.
The night I was hit, I was home for winter break in New York City. It was raining when I left my friend’s house, and I looked both ways before crossing the street. As I crossed, a taxi crashed into me, flung my body into the air, and slammed me down on the cold, wet pavement. I was alone, terrified, and screaming with pain.
I survived, and for that I will be forever confused and grateful, but my life has been dramatically altered by this trauma and the physical injuries I sustained. The bone in my shoulder was completely shattered, requiring a long and gruesome reconstructive surgery. The immediate recovery was excruciating, and I will never fully recover – physically or emotionally. I am traumatized, and I will live the rest of my life with a permanent shoulder disability and chronic pain. Metal and cement are not bone; healing is nothing like having never been injured. Dance, the thing I love the most, will never be the same.
Since my crash, I have been overwhelmed with relief when I return to Skidmore, where I rarely have to cross a street, and cars, for the most part, don’t make me flinch the way they do at home. Now, I walk around campus with a lump in my throat, pain in my stomach, and aching in my shoulder. What was once my safe-haven is now a reminder both of my personal trauma and our community’s collective trauma. You aren’t supposed to die when you are 19. It’s not fair, and it makes me want to scream and cry and destroy the man that thought it was okay to drive drunk without stopping to think that his actions could end such a promising young life.
Since my crash, traffic safety activism at home in NYC has become both my passion and my lifeline. While I never thought I would have to bring my activism back to school with me, here at Skidmore, there are tangible things we can do to make sure this does not happen again. They may seem small, but they are an important start, and are immensely important to our safety:
- I wish this didn’t need saying, but it does -- It would be an unforgivable insult to Michael’s memory if anyone either drove drunk or let someone else drive drunk without taking action and stopping them. Never under any circumstances is it alright to drive after drinking. Never.
- If you drive on this campus - s l o w d o w n. The pedestrian has the right of way. So should the skateboarder, the cyclist, or the jogger. Yield to these people.
- Stop going the wrong way in the Sussman and Northwoods parking lots – it’s just not safe. You are driving a two-ton metal weapon and you need to act like it.
- For all of us collectively, whether we drive or not – we have a responsibility both to acknowledge and to take action in changing the fact that Clinton Street, past the Skidmore entrance, is unsafe. That road desperately needs a sidewalk and better lighting. Local politicians care about our votes and they need to know that Clinton Street safety improvements are imperative to any further support from our community.
- I have learned through my traffic safety advocacy work in New York City to use the word crash, not accident. An accident implies something unavoidable; it implies that there is no fault. But these boys were hit by a drunk driver, and anytime you get behind the wheel drunk, whether you hit someone or not, you are at fault for your actions.
Unless they see my scar, or maybe have a dance class with me, most people can’t tell that I have been injured. But after last weekend, we have all been scarred by traffic violence. Let’s not allow Skidmore to become a community where our scars go unnoticed. Let’s make changes for the better to our campus and to the Saratoga community. Let’s honor this life lost and make this tragedy count for something because it is, after all, the least that we can do.