They accidentally killed someone with their car. Now they want reform.

They accidentally killed someone with their car.  Now they want reform.

Jennifer Eikenhorst was driving home with her young daughters one evening after picking them up from a friend’s house. She was on a country road and stopped at the top of the hill, so she did not see the approaching motorcyclist.

“His name was David, and by the time I entered the intersection, it was too late for him,” she said.

At that moment, Eikenhorst became CADI, short for “accidental causing death or injury” — a term coined by the late Marian Gray, founder of the Hyacinth Fellowship, an organization that provides comfort and guidance to people who accidentally kill or seriously injure someone.

At least 30,000 people become paralegals and their victims each year, said Chris Yao, the fellowship’s president. He said that many accidental deaths are due to firearms or medical accidents, but the vast majority are due to car accidents.

These deaths have inspired some CADI officers, like Eikenhorst, to seek reforms to the country’s car-centric transportation system that allows innocent people to become unintentional killers.

“We can’t escape dangers with vehicles, but there are a lot of things we can do to improve their safety,” she said, suggesting more awareness campaigns about distracted driving and enhancing vehicle safety features.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a lobby group representing most domestic automakers, said in a statement that vehicles “continue to get safer as automakers across the board test, develop and integrate advanced safety technologies that help save lives and prevent injuries.” “

That’s thanks to new features like exterior cameras and computer-controlled braking, as well as better blind-spot detection systems.

Despite the improvements, pedestrian deaths continue to rise, reaching a 40-year high in the United States in 2022. Traffic deaths have also risen in recent years, according to a New York Times analysis.

In the first half of 2023, an estimated 19,515 people were killed in traffic accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Eikenhorst, who has not been found criminally responsible for the motorcyclist’s death in 2016, said the fact she was driving responsibly made it difficult to accept.

“I was obeying the law. I was not negligent. I was not involved in an accident or even a violation,” she said. “I was the strict mother, and this still happens to me.”

She warned that it could happen to anyone.

“One of the most important things the lawyer told me is that a driver’s license is a license to kill,” she said.

“I never thought about it that way, but we give these licenses to 16-year-olds who are still developing emotionally, so there are a lot of systemic issues that I think could be improved.”

CADI officers don’t refer to themselves as victims, Yao said, because “we realize that there is a victim in any incident, and we don’t want to detract from their being victims.”

But he said: “In any accident, there is someone who caused it and it is a terrible thing.”

CADI doctors endure unique hardship, Eikenhorst said.

“It’s a complete destruction of your entire identity,” she said. “I was a wife, a mother, a teacher, and a community member. In an instant I crashed and lost it all when I entered a season of depression.

Even in those rare moments when she was able to do her job, she felt guilty that she had given birth to her children and was no longer with the deceased victim’s family.

“We question our entire existence and believe that we no longer deserve to live,” she said.

Jessica Ward’s accident occurred just before the holidays last year, while she and her husband were leaving a mall in Asheville, North Carolina. Ward, a former medical director, said the outlet was located directly off a major highway, where accidents commonly occurred.

When Ward merged onto the freeway, she said she looked both ways three, maybe four times. Then I heard a thump.

He was an 18-year-old motorcyclist.

“It’s a distorted feeling where you wish you were using your phone, because then you know it’s your fault,” she said. “But I couldn’t have done anything different that day.”

Ward was an experienced driver who owned pickup trucks and a motorhome. She considered herself very cautious. But her accident showed her how dangerous driving inherently is.

“Cars are the main way we get the necessities of life,” she said. “They’re safer than they used to be, but they’re still 5,000-pound metal vehicles.”

Isabella Chu, associate director of the data center at Stanford’s Center for Population Health Sciences, blames unintended car deaths on transportation infrastructure that requires people to operate unsafe heavy machinery.

“We have made driving a requirement for mobility access in most of America,” she said. “But driving is a dangerous activity that causes tens of thousands of deaths and millions of injuries every year.”

“Unless something radically changes, it is statistically certain that there will be more than 40,000 deaths and millions of infections every year,” she said.

David Peters, an Episcopal priest from Texas, became a member of the jury in 1994 when he was just 19 years old.

He was driving with his roommate to church one evening when the sun’s rays penetrated the windshield and momentarily blinded him. He hit a median barrier, then swerved into oncoming traffic.

“I looked up and saw a motorcycle heading straight towards me, and that’s the last thing I remember,” he said.

Peters said he believes society needs to do a better job of communicating the dangers of cars and dismantling the systems that force us to use them.

“If people knew how dangerous car culture is for all of us, and how we are all one wheel away from a horrific accident that would look like murder, then that is the one thing that would help us all dream of a better world,” he said.

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