Editorial by John Ziegler

Despite What the Media Says, Cars Rarely Crash on Their Own

12/4/2001

Though, shockingly, there has been no public outcry for one, apparently the 2001 Pontiac Grand Prix needs to be completely recalled immediately. It is a matter of urgent public safety. What? You mean you haven't heard about how that very car killed four young Bucks County adults around 3 am this past Sunday morning? Well, it was in all the local newspapers. I am surprised you missed this vitally important warning for consumers.

The Philadelphia Inquirer was all over how this General Motors made car is evidently a virtual death machine. They reported that this vehicle, belonging to one Matthew Cressman, who died in the crash, "veered off the road and struck a telephone pole and several trees." Just in case there was any doubt that the car's bizarre behavior was responsible for the tragic crash, the Inquirer printed photographs of the four who died with a caption that labeled all of them "VICTIMS of Sunday's crash… when Chessman's car veered off Ridge Valley Road in West Rockhill."

Despite such damaging news indicating dramatic design flaws in the 2001 Pontiac Grand Prix, GM's stock was down only sixty-seven cents on a down day for the market. Wondering why the news that GM is selling a car that crashes into things for no apparent reason hadn't had an effect on the perception of the company; I decided to further investigate this accident.

I turned to the local paper of record on the matter, the Bucks County Courier Times. Their headline read, "Four die when car crashes into pole." In the accompanying article it is was reported that "Four young people from Upper Bucks County died when the car they were in hit a telephone pole and several trees before bursting into flames…, police said." Oh, so it was the POLICE who had concluded that the car was to blame for the loss of four people in the prime of life?

But upon further review, the theory that it was the police who had affixed responsibility for the crash on the car didn't seem to make much sense. You see, those same newspaper articles stated that investigators believed that those in the car might very well have been drinking and quite possibly using drugs. They said they found several burned beer bottles in the wreckage and gave a rather cryptic statement regarding drugs that indicated that at least something related had also been found in the car's remains. Those same investigators also mentioned that preliminary observations lead them to believe that the car was far exceeding the speed limit, but I guess that might have also been the car's fault.

So, we have four young people, celebrating a 21st birthday at 3 am, out on a dark winding road that didn't lead to any of their homes, getting into a fatal crash where there is found ample evidence of behavior altering substances. Perhaps, on second thought, the car itself wasn't really at fault, after all.

Desperate to test this new and radical hypothesis, and with very little place left to go, I went to the dregs of the local news media world: WCAU-TV. Surely, I thought, if the car was indeed responsible, the station that has yet to find a "fear" story it didn't like would be the ones to tell me. But when I went to their website I was surprised to find a very different take on the same catastrophe. They simply stated:

"Four killed in fiery crash. Twenty-one-year-old Matthew Cressman veered off Ridge Valley Road near Allentown Road. The car burst into flames. All four people died."

Where was the story asking, "Could your Pontiac kill your children?"? Where was the Channel 10 consumer alert? Without such expected hysteria, the concept of human error causing this heartbreaking incident was seemingly becoming a more likely possibility.

But why had those newspapers given me the wrong impression? My guess is that they had a very well intentioned desire to protect the families of the "victims" from any more suffering by forcing them to come to grips with the reality that this was not really an "accident" in the true nature of the word. While I certainly sympathize with that sentiment, I can't help thinking that softening the portrayal of what really happened here (not to mention the near canonization of those who lost their lives, which seems to occur every time something like this takes place) does absolutely nothing to help keep it from happening again.

I guess it is still okay to drive a Pontiac. But it is never safe for four young people to be driving fast and drunk on a back road at 3am.

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