The People v. The Setting Sun
August 23, 2011 § 10 Comments
Two weekends ago, Robert and I visited my parents in order to really dig in to the whole baby-preparation thing. (Now that I’m nearly four months pregnant, it seems appropriate that the Queen of Planning and Princess of Planning make the most out of their limited time together to, well, plan!) While we were visiting with them, my paternal grandparents came over for dinner. It was a really nice time to see them; we hadn’t visited them since I had announced my pregnancy over the phone to them on Father’s Day.
While we were having dinner, my grandfather regaled us with an interesting…and…slightly disturbing…tale of a friend of theirs (a neighbor) who had a rather unfortunate accident with a bicyclist, which resulted in the cyclist’s untimely death. Allow me to share the story with you, free of judgment, before I share my opinion.
Setting: 5:30 p.m., EST, late October. Her SUV crests the top of a hill to approach a stop light. This particular spot has always been a neighborhood bugaboo, particularly in the Fall. Neighbors have complained of feeling blinded as they traverse the intersection at this time of day, on this particular hill.
Situation: As she pulls up to the top of the hill, she notices that there is another car behind her. Unfortunately, she cannot see to her right, blinded by the sun. As she begins to pull through the intersection, she hears a gruesome thump and knows that she has hit something. Just a moment later, the car behind her likewise hits the something. She’s a nurse, on her way to pick up her child from an extracurricular activity, so she immediately pulls over to investigate. When she sees the man off his bicycle, dying, she begins emergency care. The police arrive and physically restrain the panicked off-duty nurse. The man is dead on the scene.
What happened: Driver A was blinded by the sun and therefore unable to see the bicyclist riding in the shoulder to her right. There is no bike lane. Her right side-view mirror clipped the cyclist, causing him to fall off his bike. Driver B killed the cyclist by driving over him. (I have limited information on Driver B because Driver A is my grandparents’ neighbor and friend, so the story is primarily from her perspective.)
The question: who is at fault and to what degree?
Think on that, ruminate a minute, and then, when you’re ready, return to this post for my take on it.
But first, my grandparents’ opinion:
Driver A, their friend, has been in and out of court for several months (nearly a year has gone by), but the official trial has not started. She has suffered a great deal of mental and physical anguish, leaving her depressed and incapable to do her job as a nurse. Her family has suffered, as well. They have taken to avoiding the scene of the accident in hopes of not reliving the horror of that fateful afternoon. (They may have even moved, but I’m a little spotty on that detail.) To my grandparents’ unified minds, this woman has served her due time through her suffering. They believe that the bicyclist is responsible for his death for two reasons: 1. he was traveling in a shoulder, not in an approved bike lane, and 2. everyone in the area knew that the sun was blinding at that time of the day in that particular spot. They could not comprehend why this man would choose to ride his bike amid afternoon traffic when visibility is so obviously compromised. I asked if they had heard about Driver B and what she was being held responsible for, but they hadn’t heard. They are disgusted by the surviving family of the cyclist for pursuing the case and for erecting a memorial to their family member. They are sure that the memorial is an attempt to further punish the drivers involved, specifically Driver A, through psychological torture.
It is always, beyond any reasonable doubt, the driver’s responsibility to drive in a manner that ensures the safety of all passengers as well as all other bodies on the road. I have been blinded by a setting sun before. I have had trouble seeing the lines painted on the road because of the sun. I have driven dangerously close to a bicyclist before because of traffic on my left or an inability to see the cyclist.
Should anything have happened to me, my passengers, other drivers, pedestrians, or cyclists on the road because I found myself temporarily impaired, then it is solely my responsibility. When I am impaired by the sun, then it is my responsibility to drive slower and more cautiously. I can’t assume that others around me are aware that I’m blinded and that they’ll accommodate my impairment. I believe that Driver A should take some responsibility for assisting an accidental vehicular homicide. Driver B should be charged with accidental vehicular homicide. The bicyclist should not have been traveling in a shoulder, true. But neither he nor the setting sun should be found culpable for the unfortunate accidental crime.
I was also surprised by my grandparents’ vehemence. I am positive that if I were the cyclist in this scenario, my parents would fight to the end to see the drivers responsible brought to justice.
So, readers, what says’t thou? In the case of the People v. the Setting Sun, who should win?