The Teachable Moment Everyone Is Ignoring

By all accounts, Paul Walker was a great person.

This cropped image of Walker and Rodas comes from the worst coverage of the crash I could find. The conservative news website ## Media## actually had the gal to end their bizarre piece by sighing that at least Rodas and Walker died doing what they loved, "driving fast and furious."
This cropped image of Walker and Rodas comes from the worst coverage of the crash I could find. The conservative news website ## Media## actually had the gal to end their bizarre piece by sighing that at least Rodas and Walker died doing what they loved, “driving fast and furious.”

He was a movie star who cared about people. He raised millions for charity. He loved his daughter. He did all the things that one hopes celebrities do in their lives, by using his money and fame to make the world a better place.

Except for the part where he made a terrible decision with his friend on Saturday that led to both of their untimely deaths.

On Saturday night, after leaving a toy drive organized by his charity for victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, Walker got into the passenger seat of his friend Roger Rodas’ 2005 Porsche Carrera GT. The next thing we know, the Porsche collided with a tree a couple of hundred feet from Rodas’ specialty car shop on Hercules Street in Santa Clarita and burst into flames. Both men died in the crash. Based on camera footage and tire patterns on the street, authorities estimate that the pair were going well over the posted 45 mile per hour speed limit…perhaps as high as 90 miles per hour.

The tragedy is being mourned across the world. Social media and news websites are filled with tributes. The memorial at the scene of the crash looks larger than some of L.A.’s parks. Walker is survived by a teenage daughter who is, of course, completely heartbroken. The Sheriff’s Department is looking into the crash.

This isn’t a surprise. By all accounts, Paul Walker was a great person.

But by ignoring that Walker and/or Rodas made a stupid and selfish decision on Saturday, the media and their fans are deliberately letting a teachable moment slip way. Both men were accomplished and skilled drivers. But by going at excessive speeds on a road not meant for high speed travel, they made a mistake that cost them their lives.

After living a life that was full of giving, Walker’s death can give us something else…a lesson that is too often lost in the drumbeat of a car culture media:

Cars are not toys. When they are treated as such in a public place people die.

While the Sheriffs have ruled out a second driver, there is little doubt that the car was going well beyond the posted speed. Burnt rubber on the road hints that the road is regularly used for making figure eights and other tricks. 

But, even if the road is wide and seldom used except for the local businesses, it is still a public space. A public space that other people drive on. A public place where you can ride a bicycle. A public place where I might push a stroller.

When a driver loses control of a vehicle, everyone in the area is at risk, not just the two people behind the wheel. When a driver takes actions that increase the likelihood of a crash, they are being stupid and selfish. Even Kobe Bryant misses a free throw every now and then, even Matt Kemp can drop a fly ball, and even a professional driver can lose control of a vehicle. The goal should be to minimize the chance that happens.

Even if a study shows that the brakes of the vehicle were defective, Rodas owned the car since this summer. He should have had plenty of time to make sure the brakes worked properly before taking it out on the road.

The bottom line is that someone, or maybe two someones, made a mistake in Santa Clarita on Saturday night that left two men dead. The car is so badly damaged that it’s possible the public will never know the full story of what happened.

But given the skill of the two men involved, and given that Walker is most famous for a movie role that glorified unsafe driving, someone has to say it. What happened on Saturday was not an “accident,” it was a crash. It was avoidable and should not be greeted with a “these things happen” attitude. The events that led up to the crash put a lot of people at risk, not just Walker and Rodas. It is a tragedy that they are gone, but their absence puts the onus on the rest of us to use this moment to get out a simple message.

Cars are not toys. When they are treated as such, people die.

  • D Martinez

    You are a disrespectful, spiteful person. Your egotistical, self righteous and selfish condemnation of this person is unfortunately on par for your blog. Along with continually using “carmageddon” in your stories to report on vehicle accidents you continue to preach like a rabid minister to your flock.

    Despite you righteous condemnation, you are neither morally superior or the last bastion of common sense, in fact you are quite the opposite. You can begin your atonement by penning an apology to his daughter, family and friends. But, that would be expecting to much from you.

  • Anonymous

    Fuck that. Damien is right. This guy is being glorified for making movies that basically encourage drivers to be assholes. My guess? These guys were probably drinking at the party and hyped saturday night and jetted off in their high powered vehicle like so many they’ve inspired before and will in the future. A look at the movies themselves reveals cars zooming in and out of traffic… Smashing into everything… Its not new, its practically a hollywood tradition to show car driving like this. If anyone should apologize it should be Walker to his daughter posthumously… “Im sorry that your father was so wrapped up in his movie persona. Unfortunately, unlike the movies, people die when they drive fast and furious. You will live the rest of your life knowing that I thought blasting around streets was more important than you. Im sorry.”

  • poopface

    2 fast 2 furious act a fool!!! Drive fast and kill people yea!!

  • D Martinez

    Damien’s platitudes aside, your making a guess and making assumptions based upon your own fictional ideas and stereotypes of what happened that day. You know what happens when people make assumptions and believe stereotypes, they make an ass of themselves. Stare at the mirror if you can anonymous. F that.

  • J

    Man drives 90mph on street, ends up dead. Blog points out that driving 90mph is dangerous and frequently deadly. D Martinez is upset?

  • Anon

    Yeah, its a pretty good guess though no? Question to verify guess… Was alcohol served at party? Was driver seen drinking? Was Walker seen drinking. Basic stuff that no one wants to ask because Walker is a popular celeb. Sheriff? Anyone?

  • HighNoon

    “You are a disrespectful, spiteful person. Your egotistical, self
    righteous and selfish condemnation of this person is unfortunately on
    par for your blog” You sure are great at making those guesses and assumptions Mr. Martinez. What does Damien have to apologize for… telling the truth? Hurts doesn’t it?

  • calwatch

    There is an FTA video called “A Knock on the Door” that talks about rail safety but is applicable to safe practices in general.

    Complacency is a big issue. People get complacent because they’ve done something numerous times. But do something enough and the law of averages can catch up to you quickly. The Porsche Carerra has had issues at the race track, but public streets are much less forgiving. When you have people that depend on you you need to be more cognizant of risks. The driver failed to recognize that and paid the ultimate price.

  • Joe B

    Thank you, Damien, for coming out and stating the blindingly obvious.

    I’m not too bad at explaining complex or difficult concepts to people. But I’m often at a loss when I try to explain things that are simple and obvious. It is blindingly obvious to me that we are in the middle of an aggressive driving epidemic that kills 100 Americans per day and maims thousands more, and that those deaths are 100% preventable. If it were a terrorist or a contagious disease that were causing the carnage, we would mobilize the nation (cost be damned) to stop it. But because it’s people in cars, it’s seen as a minor problem that we might consider dealing with some day, and not the emergency that it is.

    So how does one explain that to people who think that aggressive and dangerous driving is no big deal?

  • Marcotico

    This blog post makes a point of being respectful to the family, and pointing out that overall Paul Walker seemed like a good person who made or was part of making one bad decision. Your post on the other hand is full of spite, and ignorance. I think you should be disappointed and expect more from yourself.

    PS. I am definitely a member of the streetsblog “flock”, but that doesn’t invalidate a single word that I wrote.

  • D Martinez

    It is ironic that you claim that you believe that the blogger is being respectful to someone who died because, in the bloggers words, “What happened on Saturday was not an “accident,” … It was
    avoidable and should not be greeted with a “these things happen”
    attitude” and “Except for the part where he made a terrible decision with his friend on Saturday that led to both of their untimely deaths.” Yet these very words are those that you uphold and then criticize my own. It is your own cowardly spite and ignorance that you fling at others. Have you, Damien, your friends and family accepted rides from someone? Yet you are too easy to throw condemnation around and refuse to acknowledge that it could stick to yourselves.

  • I think folks should leave D alone. I actually debated several times whether or not to write this piece, because I knew it would piss people off that were already mourning. Whether you knew either of the people in the car, their friends or family, or are a fan, I am sorry if this piece caused you any pain.
    That being said, I don’t regret anything written in the piece. Walker’s death is a teachable moment that is slipping away. If his death can have any meaning, it could be that it somehow saves someone else’s life.

  • DMalcolmCarson

    Not a fan of Fast and Furious movies, or of the entertainment value of seeing cars whip around surface streets at insane speeds, and I didn’t know who Paul Walker was before this event, and, yes, you are technically right that there was unsafe driving involved and it was a crash not an accident, but I still think this is inappropriate. For one, apparently he wasn’t driving, so you have no way of knowing the degree to which he did or did not sign on to the level of unsafe driving that resulted in the crash. But mostly because you just don’t speak ill of the recently departed.

  • Wanderer

    Self-righteousness is annoying, no matter how good the cause. But I’m with Damien on this one. Damien didn’t say Walker is a bad person, he didn’t say anything bad about the family. He just said that driving that way was a terrible decision that killed two people. Whoever was driving, the bitter irony with the movies is just unavoidable. Damien is speaking truth to power.

  • calwatch

    If you don’t mention it now then when? How often are we harangued about wearing seat belts, helmets, and not drinking and driving? Why do police departments use the Every 15 Minutes program? Excessive speed does kill, especially on local streets where you can wrap yourself around a pole.

  • davistrain

    Not part of the immediate discussion, but something that came to mind after seeing “Cars are not toys”: Consumer Reports, usually a bastion of solid data and scientific test results, often rates cars, especially the smaller ones, on whether they’re “fun to drive”. My reaction is “Driving isn’t supposed to be fun! It’s serious business!” Many years ago there were reports about an exotic European sports car that couldn’t be sold in the US because the manufacturer wasn’t willing to sacrifice a few of his prize cars for crash testing. I thought “Just as well. It should be a reminder that the streets and highways of America are not a playground for rich auto aficionados.”

  • John Montgomery

    I think driving can most certainly be fun. And I’m not speaking of breaking the law or driving dangerously. Responsive steering, quick acceleration, open sunroof on a nice day, feeling the road and not feeling like you’re driving a couch. All that leads to an enjoyable drive for me. I have some wonderful memories of drives through the Rockies. Not as good as my cycling memories, but enjoyable nonetheless.

    But I think cycling is way more fun, which is why I ride to work almost every day. But it can also be dangerous (mainly due to cars, frankly) and you do need to be concentrating at all times (again, mainly due to cars).

  • Anon

    Take an objective moment here and look at the movies that Walker championed. They drive like complete wreckless assholes and make it look cool. He inspired a decades worth of assholes speeding around the city in deadly machines. Many thousands of people have been killed as part of this culture of destruction. Now two more…

  • andrelot

    You are mixing up film characters with real-life people, aren’t you?

    Are actors who play serial rapist-killers on the big screen psychopaths to be avoided on real life?

    Are actors who play drug king pins on TV series bad parents to their real life children?

    Please, separate fiction from reality.

  • Dawn Carey Newton

    FYI: Both the percentage of deaths and the actual # of deaths by motor vehicle have been trending steadily downward in the US since 1996. In 1996 we had 42,056 dead which equaled 15.7% of the population and in 2012 we had 34,080 which was 10.8% of the population. Objectivity needs to swing both ways and assumptions are being made on both sides without basic fact checking. The F&F franchise does indeed glorify precision driving which includes operating vehicles at high speeds and they do show the characters recklessly doing that driving on public streets rather than racetracks. However, that does not equate to F&F causing “many thousand of people” being “Killed as part of this culture of destruction”. Here is the link to US car fatality statistics.

  • duh

    High end German cars are not sheared in two and explode in collisions at the posted speed limit for this street. That reckless driving was involved should have been self-evident to anyone who covered this story

  • Anonee Mouse

    “Many thousands of people have been killed as part of this culture of destruction.” Not just specifically pointing to Fast and Furious but the entire culture of hollywood glorifying wreckless driving… how many young eyes saw any of the 7 movies dedicated to wreckless driving will speed around town and kill a kid in a crosswalk? we cant know.. but its a good guess that someone already has.

  • Erik Griswold

    Saw the first tribute to Paul Walker yesterday…written on a tuner car rear windshield…that was weaving through truck traffic on the San Bernardino Freeway. The trucks were going 60-65, the tuner car was not.

  • Erik Griswold

    Either number is a gross representation of what is accepted by society courtesy of the automobile industry. And I write this as I listen to the initial reports of today’s carnage on I-405 in the San Fernando Valley where ten vehicles are severely damaged and nine persons are being transported to hospital. Deaths may be down due to improvements in safety equipment, but crashes are trending up, and I cannot find stats on major injuries. In other words, less people are dying, but what damage is being done?

  • Meghan Arnold

    Thank you for saying quite well what has been crawling under my skin since I first heard the news last weekend. I think you showed complete respect to Walker’s friends and family, but I agree this is an extremely teachable moment and something HAD to be said. I’m glad to have a solid article to share with my friends and family.

  • Griffin

    It would be easier to separate fiction from reality if the guy who acted as a risk taking driver hadn’t died in a car crash.

  • Griffin

    Where is the blogger not being respectful? The decision to drive dangerously, to thrill seek, is what lead to the avoidable death of this actor.

  • Dawn Carey Newton

    The number of car accidents in the United States is also trending downward and has been doing so since 1990. Less accidents = less injuries. I have no issue with this incident being a teachable moment about the consequences of reckless behavior and when you should not put yourself into the hands of others who may make horrific decisions, however I do have an issue with not keeping the discussion grounded in facts.

  • andrelot

    But why do people automatically assume the guy was some irresponsible person just because he made movies in which his characters were outlaws on wheels?

  • Spokker

    You should absolutely write this piece. It’s provocative and from the heart, and tells people what they need to hear whether they like it or not.

    In fact I came by specifically to see if you had anything to say about it. I’m not into alternative transportation anymore, but I still hate reckless driving.

  • Driving and Crying

    Notice how much we defend motorists even if they die doing something stupid that could have killed an innocent bystander. Yet, we’re more worried about “respect” for someone who was a hand twitch away from killing a kid just because he thought driving was fun. Speeders kill more children than child molesters. People are more likely to kill their own kids due to driving than get their kids abducted and killed. Why are we not demonizing speeding just as we have demonized the other things that kill our young like pedophiles? If you create an environment where you defend bad drivers lock step we’ll continue to kill over 30,000 people a year and over a million world wide. Defending or “respecting” speeders is defending the literal biggest group of killers in the world. Yet, the comments here are mainly aimed at creating a culture of fear where we can’t even quote traffic statistics, basic facts, without person attacks.

  • Driving and Crying

    No, pedestrian fatalities are trending up and bicycle fatalities are flat. Most of the reasons that things are “safer” is due to people not able to get out of the house and walk around. Instead we all are forced, by government design, to encase ourselves in steel just to feel safe. The fact remains that motoring is still the biggest killer of <35 and will be that way for many, many years unless we radically transform our cities. Thus, we are looking at 30,000+ for the the future. Think about how huge this number is rather than trying to minimize the damage by proposing a magical future where we will incrementally get safer. The thing is that if people actually did realize how damaging that motoring is they would either be super-guilty all the time or they will seriously re-think their lifestyle to minimize motoring. The third alternative is to create a toxic environment where we attack those who _talk_ about the deaths while "respecting" the actual killers. I'm seriously confused at why idiot drivers need to be "respected". Speeding is illegal. They were criminals. Do we have to respect bank robbers who died in a car crash? The difference? Motorists kill way more people than bank robbers.

  • In the first italicized sentence Damien wrote “in a public space”. I think part of his point is that THESE streets, the one on which Rodas and Walker drove, and the ones most people drive, bike, and walk on, were designed for transportation and economic development, not for having fun.

    There are other roads that were designed for high-speed driving – they are race tracks and a lot of them have businesses that will let you drive an Audi S8 5.2 FSI Quattro.

  • Dawn Carey Newton

    Do you have a cite that shows pedestrian fatalities are rising?

  • Dylan

    “4,280 pedestrians died in traffic crashes in 2010, a 4% increase from the number reported in 2009.”

    “Unfortunately, pedestrians were one of the few groups of road users to experience an increase in fatalities in the United States in 2011, totaling 4,432 deaths.”


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