Nick Adenhart was a pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels, killed last night in a car crash. It was billed as a hit-and-run accident, but those under the intense deadline pressures of modern media are always groping to find some deeper meaning.
It is a senseless death. Literally. Trying to make sense of random occurrences is an exercise in futility and frustration. At the far end, it is a dangerous exercise. Our minds often aren’t capable of writing off the random as just that, and in placing significance on meaningless correlations, we perpetuate ideas that just are not valuable.
Lisa Fletcher is the reporter who covered the story Friday morning for Good Morning America. She’s the ‘face’ of the piece, and in no way do I hold her entirely accountable. My dander is up over the legion of producers and news managers who pushed a story, and even vetted one that has zero significance. Not Adenhart’s death – but the ridiculous tangent of “hit-and-run” accidents being on the rise.
Here’s a quote from Fletcher’s piece:
“California has the highest number of hit-and-run deaths in the country, but other states are seeing an increase in these accidents, many of which go unsolved.”
Let’s examine that for just a moment.
A “hit-and-run” accident is a crime, and is reported as such. The accident, in and of itself, might be the result of a separate crime. In other words, the driver might be drunk, or might be driving with a suspended license. Those are crimes that may or may not have contributed to the collision.
The “hit-and-run” itself is nothing more than leaving the scene of an accident. So there are “hit-and-runs” where no crime was committed initially, but the driver left the area out of fear or panic or confusion. Which means we have many different kinds of hit-and-run accidents.
- A true accident where a panicked driver fled. (1 crime)
- A true accident where an unlicensed driver fled. (1 minor violation, 1 crime)
- A true accident where a driver who should not be driving (suspended license) also flees the scene. (2 distinct crimes)
- An alcohol or substance-related accident where the driver flees. (2 crimes)
- An alcohol or substance-related accident where the driver had a suspended license and flees. (3 distinct crimes)
You see where this is going. There are simply too many possibilities present to lump all of these together as “hit and run accidents” with no context. It’s a meaningless distinction, because the tragedy is that people are dead, not that a participant in the accident ran away.
In her report, Fletcher followed the statement about California with a couple of anecdotal incidents from the east coast, bearing no statistical context. She then stated that 37,000 Americans every year die in hit-and-run accidents.
Tell me, how do you prevent a hit-and-run? Wouldn’t you rather prevent the accident in the first place?
And why is it that some states “lead” others in hit-and-run accidents? Might it be that California is the most populous? Let’s assume for a moment that the people vetting this story aren’t completely brain-dead, and they factored in “per capita” or “per hours on the road?” What factors might play a role in a high incidence of hit-and-run accidents?
- A state with stiffer penalties for those driving with suspended licenses would provide greater incentive for someone to “make a break for it.”
- A state with a less lenient judicial track record for DUIs would make it more likely that a driver will flee.
- A state with a higher percentage of drunk drivers on the road might be likely to have more hit-and-runs, because of impaired judgment.
- A state with a higher percentage of undocumented illegals would have a higher incidence of leaving the scene.
In the above, we have one factor that actually has something to do with the accident (drunk driving), and three that have to do with behavior linked to wanting to avoid police/judicial contact. And of those, we have two that indicate that in states where enforcement is uniform and there’s zero tolerance for DUIs, there is a greater incentive to run.
That’s right. In states where you know you’ll be punished severely for driving while intoxicated, there is more incentive to run.
This emphasis on “hit-and-run” accidents is one based on emotion, not fact. Stories where bereaved family members have “no justice” and “no one to hold accountable” are quite sexy. It makes the journalistic endeavor seem more noble than exploitative. It brings a community together to solve this crime, and bring the offender to justice.
And it’s just plain wrong, because it stirs up anger and resentment at the wrong thing.
Be angry about the accident. Be angry about the fact someone fled the scene. Don’t confuse the two, because the higher rate of “hit-and-run” accidents might in fact be a sign that the rest of the justice system is working.