Gridlock Guy: Refugee’s pedestrian death a solemn reminder of driving privilege

Metro Atlanta’s diversity of races, experiences, backgrounds and ways of life is rich. The words ahead make broad brush strokes that account for many people, but certainly not all in our great city. Regardless of these differences, the vast majority of Atlantans own cars and drive. An everyday part of life — piloting a car — easily becomes like a wallpaper, a nearly-hypnotic necessity. It’s so automatic, and bad traffic is so rampant, that the privilege of pulling a wheel is oft-forgotten.

A recent tragedy on a Gwinnett County road, in the nexus of three types of travel, brings to light the actual esteemed privilege that the autonomy of driving is. Thanks to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Lautaro Grinspan’s reporting, the grim details of this necessary reality check come to light.

Pregnant Afghan refugee Sajida Hussaini, 34, had just departed an Uber on Hewatt Road in Snellville. With her nine-year-old son in tow, Hussaini began crossing the street when a passing motorist hit and killed her and her unborn child. Her son was uninjured and the driver remained at the scene.

At the time of this report, Gwinnett PD is still working to determine whether speed was a factor in this tragic death.

Making the story sadder, Hussaini was trying to cross the street to see her daughter, hospitalized with an illness. She left behind a husband, a son and four daughters. The family had escaped Afghanistan last November and had just settled in Clarkston.

Grinspan’s reporting quotes a refugee activist, who says that one of the biggest problems resettled refugees face is transportation. Farsi has only recently been added to Georgia DDS driver’s license testing. Gas prices have skyrocketed. Owning a vehicle is cost-prohibitive. Owning more than one, obviously, is more so.

Vehicle-ownership costs affect all impoverished groups. Others with various disabilities and medical problems also cannot enjoy the autonomy of driving. They are reliant on walking, biking, public transit, carpooling, and ridesharing to do many of life’s basic chores.

Imagine walking a half-mile to the store for some milk with several kids. Even driving with that load would be a tough task.

Regardless of how people landed in these circumstances — some of these challenges are avoidable, but many others certainly are not — many people we know and see fall into this non-driving category. They do not get to experience what we so highly take for granted.

Driving irresponsibly or flippantly when so many people cannot at all is the equivalent of not cleaning one’s plate. So many suffer from hunger, yet so many leave food on their plates. The waste in both cases is similar.

But when we drive with mindless entitlement, our mistakes can intersect with someone’s necessity to commute another way. Someone driving on a street they have taken hundreds of times may take it a little faster than others or illegally check their phone. They might do this right when someone who is unable to drive — someone elderly or unable to afford a vehicle — is stepping out to cross the street. And whether that person is choosing to cross in a crosswalk or not, drivers protected by metal and glass should know they hold the upper hand in safety.

A motorist, with that extra speed and protection, can easily lose sight of people on the outside that are lacking both. That aloofness can cause the person in the privileged position behind the wheel to hurt those less fortunate. Those in the more vulnerable positions often have little choice but to be in those spots.

There are so many filters through which to view the heavy responsibility of driving. Considering the lives and wellbeing of surrounding motorists or a driver’s own is a central pillar of driving. But people should always have the needs and safety of everyone in their commuting system - those far more exposed and those unable to reap the benefits of driving - at high priority.

Unfortunately, losing parents like Sajida Hussaini brings a tragic reminder of just how fragile life is and just how much more considerate we all should be behind the wheel.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also hosts a traffic podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.