MA Vision Zero Coalition Statement on Commonwealth Ave Fatal Crash

MA Vision Zero Coalition Statement on Commonwealth Ave Fatal Crash

Statement from the Massachusetts Vision Zero Coalition:

The Commonwealth Avenue crash that claimed the life of Theodore J. Schwalb, age 80, an arts teacher at Stoneham High School for more than 40 years, is disturbing on many levels. The driver, Phocian Fitts, acknowledges that he drove the car that struck and killed Mr. Schwalb in the middle of the day and then fled the scene. He stated this in an interview with Boston 25 News after he was released from police custody:

“People hit and run people all the time, it just happened to be an unfortunate situation where I was driving.”

Mr. Fitts’ comments, although brazen, reflect the low bar we’ve set when it comes to holding people accountable for reckless driving behavior.

  • A culture that accepts fatal crashes as a fact of life means law enforcement isn’t holding drivers accountable. We are deeply disturbed that the alleged suspect was initially questioned and released without charges despite fleeing the scene of a fatal crash. An arrest was only made after the Boston 25 News interview, in which he admitted to “driving too quick to the point where I couldn’t really stop” before running over and killing a fellow Boston resident.
  • A culture that accepts fatal crashes as a fact of life means lawmakers don’t realize the urgency of safety legislation. A hands free driving bill, which has passed the Senate and is backed by broad public support and Governor Baker, has languished in the House for years and now is awaiting action in the House Ways and Means Committee.
  • A culture that accepts fatal crashes as a fact of life means that thousands of people are seriously injured on Massachusetts streets every year.  In 2017, there were 4,537 injury crashes on Boston’s streets, which is up ten percent since 2015. Across Massachusetts, at least 133 people have been killed on our roads in the first 5 months of 2018.

While we are brokenhearted that another life has been lost on our streets, we are hopeful that the culture is beginning to shift around designing and building safer streets. In 2015 Mayor Walsh committed Boston to Vision Zero, an effort to eliminate serious and fatal crashes. Cambridge and Somerville soon followed suit.

Each of these cities have worked to make good on their Vision Zero commitments by redesigning dangerous corridors and intersections, and Boston recently announced a major investment in its Transportation Department’s safety efforts.

To ensure our streets are safe and accessible for everyone, design is important. We also need law enforcement and elected leaders to step up and make it clear that reckless driving deserves severe consequences.

Wendy Landman, Executive Director, WalkBoston
Emily Stein, President, Safe Roads Alliance
Stacy Thompson, Executive Director, LivableStreets Alliance
Becca Wolfson, Executive Director, Boston Cyclist Union

Additional Sources

  • A 2018 AAA study found that “Hit-and-run crashes in the United States are trending in the wrong direction,” according to Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The report found that most victims of fatal hit-and-run crashes are pedestrians or bicyclists. Over the past 10 years, nearly 20 percent of all pedestrian deaths were caused by hit-and-run crashes, meanwhile just one percent of all driver fatalities in that same time period were hit-and-run crashes.
  • The Massachusetts Vision Zero Coalition maintains a map of fatal crashes involving people biking or walking across Massachusetts.
  • WalkBoston tracks fatal pedestrian crashes across Massachusetts. This pedestrian crash fatality list is compiled manually via news & social media alerts in order to give communities more information to help push for safer streets.
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