The latest trend in Islamic terror-related acts on "Western soil" involves a simple weapon. The automobile. Two plus tonnage of metal, barreling down and casting pedestrians about like a flippant child with action figures. This rudimentary attack is aimed solely at soft targets filled with pedestrians and requires limited planning and funding. The results have been quite devastating in Europe and China, sparking global media coverage and creating havoc in the public safety sphere. If a terrorist scumbag veers off the roadway - the carnage is swift and brutally graphic. A sidewalk is the ultimate soft target.In major destination cities, like Manhattan's Time Square or Chicago's Magnificent Mile, people gather in dense foot traffic. Hell, Manhattan has a population density of 66,940 people per square mile! The sidewalks in Manhattan are exceptionally wide, but with approximately 1.6 million residents, areas bottleneck shoulder to shoulder in pedestrian foot traffic. The reason I downplay this style of terror attacks is simply because the U.S. has been lucky. I’m just surprised the United States has only had one terror-related ramming attack, the Ohio State incident. The Ohio State incident is the only one I can think of where a vehicle was used to run over pedestrians. In that case, 11 people were injured before the vehicle was rendered obsolete. The questioning now becomes, how can we prevent this soft target assault? Is it quantifiably justified in comparison to the number of accidental pedestrian fatalities? And, are the two talking points mutually exclusive?
It’s not prevalent in the U.S., so why should I care?
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With the advent of modern transport, global issues are now America's issues.[/caption]That’s a great question. Anything that happens on the international stage can take place domestically. Since 2014, when ISIS leader Abu Mohammed Al-Adnani declared an “any means necessary” tactic against western culture, 173 people have been killed in the “ramming” attacks. According to NBC News, who claims to possess an exclusive report by the TSA, stated that “in the past three years, at least 173 people have been killed and more than 700 wounded in 17 ramming attacks around the world.” Of those 173 people, 140 were killed in the Chinese and French incidents.Should we be walking about in fear? Absolutely not.
This recent Times Square incident, where Richard Rojas plowed over three blocks of pedestrians, highlights this tactic – just not the motive. Albeit the motive is still under investigation and doesn’t appear on its face to be terror-related, 1 person was killed and 22 were injured. This latest incident should serve as a wake-up call to consider potential steps in prevention of malicious attempts, as well as accidental deaths. Thus, the conversation should not be stifled. The fact remains, we DO have a problem with pedestrian-related traffic fatalities.
By the Numbers: Terror Versus Accidental Fatalities
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207 pedestrian children (under the age of 14) were killed by vehicles in 2014 - stats by USDOT.[/caption]According to the latest data collected by the United States Department of Transportation, in 2014 alone there were 4,884 pedestrian deaths associated with traffic accidents. Of the 4,884 pedestrian fatalities, 48% of the incidents involved alcohol - whether it was the driver or the pedestrian.This is a stark contrast to the number of terror-related ramming attacks in the U.S. The latter number, by the way, is 0. This sets the stage for questioning whether or not it is rationally acceptable for the media to create hysteria in the first place. Going on a purely quantitative interpretation, more pedestrian fatalities are associated with accidents in comparison to terror-related “ramming” assaults. So, perhaps this will evolve from a "terror-centered" debate towards an "accident-preventative" conversation, both serving the same master: safeguarding the public.
Potential Preventative Measures
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Traffic bollards limit pedestrian exposure to "ramming" vehicles.[/caption]The fact that a possibly intoxicated person drove on the sidewalks for three New York City blocks should be a wake-up call. Perhaps some officials in the New York City DOT should focus on cementing more road barricades or concrete bollards to secure densely foot trafficked areas? It’s not like in the movies when a romanticized car chase ends up on a city sidewalk and all of the pedestrians miraculously dive out of harm's way. The terrorists target areas with limited escape routes for pedestrians. So implementing more concrete bollards may not be such a bad idea in preventing both terror and accidents.Another example would be the introduction of fully autonomous vehicles. Queue Uber and Google’s elated joy. If vehicles were completely automated, it would be nearly impossible to jump the curb and create havoc on pedestrian walkways. Yet, the introduction of computer controlled automobiles comes with its own Pandora’s box of problems. Perhaps it's better that we put that one on the backburner for now...
Where does that leave us?
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Perhaps we can take care of two birds with one stone?[/caption]I am of the mindset to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Pedestrian fatalities are a fact of life in the United States. Any society that allows a person over 16 to drive a two-ton metal missile down a roadway, should expect accidents to happen. How many of those fatalities occurred in rural areas? I don't know. The real question lies in the following: is the media’s fear mongering acceptable or is it giving in to what the terrorist want?Just going by the actual numbers, accidents far outweigh terror-related deaths. BUT going by the mantra of preparation and planning, I would say they are justified in sparking some discussion regarding infrastructure to safeguard pedestrians. Whether it is more bollards or the introduction of automated vehicles; preventative initiatives would see a reduction in accidental deaths as well as an increase in terrorist "ramming" dissuasion.This latest Times Square incident should serve as a wake-up call to densely populated urban areas and the people in charge of their roadways. Whether it is an accident, vehicular manslaughter, or a terrorist attempt – we should start to ponder further ways to help “curb” the amount of pedestrian fatalities. So, in regards to the mass media hysteria, perhaps for once it’s a good thing? Let’s get the conversation started. Feel free to offer your thoughts in the comment section below.