So, You’re Afraid to Ride LA Transit … But Not Afraid to Drive?

TRANSIT TALK-The excuse is given repeatedly: some will not ride buses or trains because they do not feel safe. They are afraid. Yet, they seem to have no second-thoughts about driving. 

I have been a regular transit rider since 1992 because of environmental concerns. First, there was air pollution, which after years of progress, is becoming worse in the Los Angeles Basin. Of even greater concern now is the threat of global warming and climate change, fueled to a large degree by vehicle exhaust. 

Though I ride lots of buses and trains in Los Angeles, I do own a car and drive when needed, but each year my miles traveled by buses and trains far exceeds the miles I drive. I have experience both as a transit rider and a driver. 

I am neither foolish nor stupid enough to state that riding buses trains and buses is completely carefree and safe, but I have been mugged on the sidewalk in front of the dentist’s office and robbed with a shotgun to my head with knife run down my back. I have had items stolen from my front porch, from the car (with a broken window thrown in for more damages) and had a bicycle stolen (they cut the lock) when miles away from home. 

But I feel safe riding buses and trains. The following from Safetynet.com proves how dangerous it is to drive, and that crimes are constantly being committed in places related to driving: 

Driving Statistics:  The Cold Hard Facts About the Dangers of Driving 

These driving statistics aren’t meant to scare you. But most of us tend to become complacent about driving and forget just how dangerous it can be. I know that I’ve become very comfortable over years driving. With so many people partaking in different forms of distracted drivingdrunk driving, and other dangerous driving behavior, I think we all need a wake-up call now and then. 

Revisiting the dangers of driving 

While fatal driving statistics have continued to improve over the decades, driving our cars remains the single most dangerous activity we perform during the day. Since most people have been in a motor vehicle nearly every day of their life, driving or even riding as a passenger has become routine. It’s almost silly that so many people are scared to fly since driving remains the number one cause of death in most age groups. 

Motor vehicle fatalities by age group 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, here are the top three causes of death by age group (yeah, depressing stuff I know!). Check out what consistently ranks at the top. Yup, motor vehicle accidents (shown as Unintentional MV Traffic in blue). 

Note that there is nothing about plane crashes, snakes, spiders, or even werewolves. Many people are afraid of so many things, but when it comes to driving, no problem! The repetition of driving relaxes us, and we are all guilty of letting our guard down. 

Chances of being involved in an injury accident 

Get ready, because this is some scary stuff. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), two out of three motorists will be involved in an injury accident during their life. Whether you are the one who becomes injured or not is another story, but that’s some eye-opening stuff. 

To add insult to injury (pun sort of intended), as a motorist you can expect to be involved in an accident once every 10 years. Even if you’re the best driver in the world, you can’t control other peoples’ driving. So once every decade or so, expect to be involved in a traffic crash. How long has it been for you? Oh, and I almost forgot…there is a 1 in 20 chance that the crash you have will involve a serious injury. Doesn’t that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? 

If one watches the local TV news, it becomes immediately clear that parking lots, stores, businesses and churches are magnets for crime and sexual assault. Many sexual assaults, which occur everywhere, are underreported.  

This is from the U.S. Department of Justice which shows that while there are crimes in transit areas, we are also subject to crimes outside our doors, places we frequent for business and pleasure, and places where we drive.  

“The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) obtains information from a household sample about victim’s experiences and characteristics of the crime incidents. The survey measures the violent crimes of rape, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated and simple assault as well as personal theft (purse snatching and pocket picking). It includes the property crimes of household burglary, motor vehicle theft and property theft. Crimes that occur in commercial places such as stores, banks, office buildings, parking garages and other locations are measured only if the victim(s) or household members in the survey experienced crimes at those locations. 

Summary findings 

  • Between 2004 and 2008:
  • About 1 in 3 violent crimes occurred in or near the victim’s own home.
  • During this time period almost 1 in 5 violent crimes took place in open areas such as yards, playgrounds, fields, on the street or in other similar locations.
  • Almost two thirds of all property crimes took place in or near the home of the household members.
  • More than 1 in 10 property crimes occurred in parking lots or garages.
  • Purse snatchings and pocket pickings typically occur away from home. The most common places of occurrence were in commercial places such as restaurants, bars and other commercial buildings (39.1%) and open areas such as the street or on public transportation (28.2%). About 10% of personal thefts occurred in or near the victim’s home or the home of a friend or neighbor.  

School crime 

  • In 2007:
  • Students ages 12 to 18 were victims of about 1.5 million non-fatal crimes when they were at school compared to about 1.1 million non-fatal crimes while they were away from school.
  • About a third (32%) of public and private school students ages 12-18 reported that they have been bullied at school within the past six months.
  • Among high school students in grades 9-12, about 12% said they got into a fight on school property.
  • Ten percent of male students and 5% of female students reported experiencing a threat or injury with a weapon on school property.
  • The percentage of students ages 12 to 18 victimized by violence and theft at school decreased between 1995 and 2005 and remained unchanged between 2005 and 2007. In 1995 about 10 percent of students were victims of violence or theft, compared to 4 percent in 2005 and 2007. 

Workplace violence 

  • Between 1993 and 1999:
  • Of selected occupations examined, police officers were the most vulnerable to be victims of workplace violence, as well as correctional officers, taxicab drivers, private security workers, and bartenders.
  • While working or on duty, U.S. residents experienced 1.7 million violent victimizations annually including 1.3 million simple assaults, 325,000 aggravated assaults, 36,500 rapes and sexual assaults, 70,000 robberies, and 900 homicides.
  • Workplace violence accounted for 18% of all violent crime.
  • Police officers were victims of a nonfatal violent crime while they were working or on duty at a rate of 261 per 1,000 officers.” 

(Matthew Hetz is a Los Angeles native. He is a transit rider and advocate, a composer, music instructor, and member and president and executive director of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.