The precise wording cannot be reported here because I was driving my car, not taking notes.
The gist of what I heard a WTOP newscaster say was: A train on which Amy Carter was a passenger struck and killed a 15-year-old boy in North Carolina. Two companions of the dead youth had made it safely across the track moments before the accident.
Several thoughts ran through my mind. First, a fleeting news judgment: If Amy Carter hadn't been a passenger, the wire services wouldn't have bothered with the story. Second, a feeling of pity that the boy who was killed had failed to develop good safety habits that might have saved his life. Finally, is accident the right word in this context?
An accident is something that happens by chance, something unexpected or unpredictable - not the result of somebody's fault or negligence. However, one who is injured as a consequence of misjudgment in crossing a track just ahead of a moving train is not really involved in an unexpected or unpredictable event. Human error is always a predictable possibility.
Similarly, one who attempts to pass another vehicle in an area where visibility is limited risks a head-on collision. One who drives too fast or while under the influence of alcohol predictably risks damage to himself and to others. When one who foolishly risks collision becomes involved in a collision, the word "accident" is seldom appropriate to describe what happened.
I was traveling east on Massachusetts Avenue, passing the Mosque, when I heard about the train accident, and was still thinking about it as I approached the Cosmos Club amid a cluster of other vehicles. The green light was with us at 22d Street, and we would have gone through that intersection at a steady 25 miles an hour except that two pedestrians were suddenly imperiled by our approach.
These were two little boys, perhaps 8 and 9 years of age. They had started from the north curb against a red light, strolling along with elaborate unconcern. Now, as they approached the median line without changing pace in the slightest, it appeared they would walk right into two moving lanes of vehicles.
The lead cars in the two eastbound lanes blew their horns. They younger boy hesitated and then stopped, a step past the median. The elder boy kept walking and got past the lane of traffic nearest the median. But by then the ears in the curb lane were abreast him. Only when his choice lay between stopping and walking into the side of a moving auto did he stop. Traffic passed the intersection on both sides of him.
My mind went back to the boys who were crossing the railroad tracks in the path of an oncoming train. I wondered what makes people take such chances? Is this how maladjusted boys show their defiance of the adult world - by forcing adults in autos to jam on their brakes? Hardly. Surely the boys on the railroad tracks didn't think a train would - or could - stop to let them pass. There must be a better explanation.
Perhaps there is food for thought in some comments from George P. Morse on my recent remarks about joggers, bicycle riders and motorists. George is a jogger, but is quick to add, "I refrain from jogging on streets that are designed, built and financed for vehicular traffic."
He adds: "Bicyclists constitute, in my judgment, the greatest highway menace. I drove a few short blocks on Riggs Road in Maryland where the street not only is two lanes wide but there is somewhat uneven shoulder.
"I encountered a father on a bicycle helping a child of 5 or 6 years on another bicycle under conditions that could only be described as suicidal.
"Further along, a teen-aged fellow was racing on the right side of the road, weaving back and forth, making it necessary to stay behind him because he was well out into the traffic lane. Within a half mile, I encountered a youth of perhaps 20 driving toward me - in other words, on the wrong side of the road.
"Bicyclists and motorcyclists express a total disregard for their own safety by their universal practice of driving between the lanes of ears waiting at a traffic light, passing them as they maneuver into position at the front of the line."
Yes. When pedestrians, joggers or bikers aren't complaining about drivers, drivers are complaining about pedestrians, joggers or bikers. 'Twas ever thus. We're all in favor of traffic safety, and we wish the other fellow would start taking it seriously.